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Recent Shifts in UK Government's Climate Change Policy

Net-Zero Review

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ("BEIS") has commissioned an independent review of the UK government's approach to delivering its net- zero target, in a way that is deemed to be pro-business and pro-growth. A consultation commenced on September 26, 2022, raising 30 questions on how the path to net zero can help meet the government's growth target of 2.5% per year. The consultation reveals something of a shift in the motivation for achieving net zero by 2050?from being primarily environmentally driven, to being seen as a possible economic opportunity.?

The consultation is cast against the backdrop of events in Ukraine and the global economic crisis. It also happens to follow a landmark judgment of the High Court handed down in July 2022, which held that the government's existing net-zero strategy was unlawful because it failed to show how the UK's legally binding climate targets will be achieved. The government has now confirmed it will not be appealing that judgment. As such, the net-zero strategy must in any event be revised by no later than March 31 2023.

The consultation closed on October 27, 2022. The outcome of the consultation will result in a report including a set of recommendations that will be submitted to the Secretary of State for BEIS by the end of December 2022.?

Fracking

Under Liz Truss' brief premiership, the UK government lifted its moratorium on fracking for shale gas in England. However, this moratorium has been reinstated by Rishi Sunak, the new prime minister. Bans continue to remain in place in Scotland and Wales. Fracking in the UK is a controversial topic due to concerns over the risk of methane leaks and seismic activity. The moratorium was introduced in November 2019 after an assessment by the UK Oil and Gas Authority concluded the risk of earthquakes could not be ruled out. No new evidence has come forward since this time on the risk having reduced.?

Oil & Gas Licensing?

When Truss was prime minister, the UK government confirmed its support for a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas exploration. The intention is to secure the UK's energy independence by exploiting the full potential of the North Sea assets. Climate campaigners have claimed the new licensing round is potentially unlawful and they may mount a legal challenge.?

Onshore Wind

Truss's administration also confirmed the UK government's intention to relax planning legislation for onshore wind projects, so that the consent process is in line with other infrastructure. This follows a 2015 de facto ban on onshore wind turbines in England. The support for onshore wind has been welcomed by the energy sector, and it is viewed as essential step if the UK is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Whether Sunak will reverse the new oil and gas licensing round or the commitment to onshore wind projects remains to be seen. But there may yet be further shifts in the UK government's approach to achieving net zero by 2050.

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