Net zero day for Rishi Sunak: New proposals receive mixed response
The government's revised net zero proposals and green finance policies have received a lukewarm response among investors, managers and analysts
Both the government's revised net zero strategy as well as its fresh green finance policy have received a lukewarm response this morning among investors, asset managers, analysts and policymakers, Net Zero Investor understands.
While some believe the proposals are much-needed and overdue, others argue they lack detail and may lead to compliance issues.
The government released multiple statements this morning. Firstly, it presented its long-awaited Powering Up Britain report, setting out the UK's approach to energy security and net zero.
The plan responded to the expert recommendations made in an Independent Review of Net Zero, chaired by Chris Skidmore MP.
It also sets out actions the government plans to take "to ensure the UK remains a leader in the net zero transition, by ensuring we drive investment into key green industries like offshore wind, CCUS, and nuclear," according to the report.
The strategy "acts as our annual update against the Net Zero Strategy, both on a national and local level," the government said.
Discussing the report with Net Zero Investor, James Wilde, chief sustainability officer at retirement investment firm Phoenix Group, said he welcomed the requirement for the UK's largest firms to publish net zero transition plans.
"Making net zero transition plans mandatory for all large businesses would send a powerful message that all businesses need to play their part in the net zero transition and would help to make better informed capital allocation, stewardship and risk management decisions to decarbonise portfolios in a way that maximises financial benefits," Wilde explained.
He also embraced the measures "to mobilise finance and speed up the planning process to accelerate investment in the low carbon technologies and sectors."
Wilde added that: "With the right regulatory framework and access to transformative investment projects that offer attractive returns, Phoenix Group could invest up to £40bn in sustainable and productive assets to support economic growth, levelling up and the climate change agenda.
Meanwhile, Tanya Sinclair, senior director, public policy for Europe at ChargePoint, one of the largest EV charging network investors in the UK, said she welcomed the measures.
"We are at a particularly monumental turning point in the move to electric and it is necessary to take the right steps now to ease the transition," Sinclair told Net Zero Investor.
She called the so-called ZEV mandate “the single biggest, revenue-neutral measure" the government could implement.
"An ambitious UK ZEV mandate will guarantee numbers of EVs on the road from 2024, and therefore provide a clear signal to infrastructure investors to scale up charge point roll out and de-risk investments," Sinclair explained.
Andy Mayer, energy analyst at think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, told Net Zero Investor this morning the government is taking the wrong approach.
""The Chancellor claims that green growth and Net Zero will be achieved through competition and deregulation rather than taxpayer handouts. But the detail does not live up to the rhetoric," he said.
Mayer added: "Despite a welcome pledge to reform the UK’s broken planning system for energy infrastructure, the government has only stated intentions rather than presenting the radical and urgent changes to the rules that are necessary."
He believes that "in many areas, the government is going in precisely the wrong direction. They are placing speculative bets and using taxpayer money on a series of unproven technologies – from carbon capture and storage to heat pumps and hydrogen."
Mayer warned that "new carbon border taxes will not make industry more competitive, but rather, risk higher consumer prices and fuel the cost of living crisis."
'Opportunity to be bold'
Also responding to the UK government’s plans, Net Zero Investor caught up with SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies, who said he was disappointed.
“While the Humber – the UK’s most carbon intensive region – was not chosen to be among the first carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects to progress, we stand ready to invest and will work with government to get shovels in the ground as quickly as possible."
“There remains an opportunity to be bold on CCS and help make the UK the easiest place in the world to invest in low carbon technologies.
“It is therefore vital we get clarity on timescales for the Humber and the North East of Scotland if the UK is to meet its climate commitments and boost energy," he added.
The government proposals published this morning also included new stipulations with regards to sustainable finance and green investments. It sets out the future direction of travel of the UK’s sustainable finance regulatory framework, the documents clarfied.
This includes recommitting to delivery of a ‘green taxonomy’, a consultation on climate transition plans for large listed and private companies.
It also presents steps to promote international interoperability of rules through an assessment of the ISSB’s standards, and a framework for how the UK can become the world’s first net-zero financial centre.
Responding to the document, James Alexander, Chief Executive, UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), told this publication that he sees "further certainty provided on a range of regulatory initiatives that could help promote investor confidence and support the UK’s climate objectives."
He did stress he hopes "to see further, crucial policy detail outlined as soon as possible in the upcoming consultations on many of these areas which we have worked closely on in recent months, and are committed to working constructively with government and wider stakeholders."
"Separately, it is very welcome to see consideration given by government to clarification to fiduciary duty. We are optimistic that this could help address the present confusion we see among pension schemes and more widely, and how environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks, opportunities, and impacts should be considered as part of these duties."
'Critical gaps and little substance'
Checking in with Net Zero Investor this morning, Steve Malkin, CEO and founder of sustainability certification company Planet Mark, reacted to the the revised strategy by saying that "there are some critical gaps."
"There appears to be little substance on many of the recommendations proposed by the Net Zero Review, which will be necessary for unlocking net zero opportunity across the nation and all sectors," he said.
He stressed that "we need to see more commitments to pair net zero regulation with financial incentives and provide clear timelines."
"If we want to remain competitive as a nation in this net zero transition, then we need to see bolder measures to help our businesses keep up with the level of net zero incentives and support being rolled out by the likes of the US and EU," Malkin concluded.
Tom Gilbey, equity research analyst at Quilter Cheviot, had mixed feelings about the revised strategy.
“Interestingly, there is no mention of windfall taxes. Renewable electricity generators have been arguing vehemently against the windfall tax on their profits," he said.
"Ideally if we are to achieve net zero by 2050, we need to remove the barriers to entry and promote investment in what is still a nascent industry," Gilbey noted.
However, he called it "positive to see" that the government put emphasis on the need for renewables, in particular newer technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage.
The policy paper stressed the need for private investment, Gilbey pointed out, saying "the government could potentially do more to remove some of the barriers that could really help this industry take off."
The document also includes a push to accelerate investment in the grid, halving the development time for transmission network projects, with a plan to follow later this year.
"We view the Grid as a key energy transition enabler, and this is one of the reasons we own National Grid," Gilbey said.
Moreover, the government is also pledging to cut the time taken to build renewable electricity plants by ‘creating a more conducive planning environment’.
"We view this as a necessary move as the lag for getting approval has been a sticking point in the roll out," he concluded.