The government is facing calls for clarity after a coalition of 30 trade bodies, NGOs, pressure groups and think tanks signed an open letter to the new secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, urging him to confirm the UK’s 2020 climate change commitments.
Following the closure of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in place of the new BEIS office, the environmental and energy-related organisations have written to new secretary Greg Clark.
They argue that together the UK and EU have proved to be world leaders in tackling climate change, now under the remit of Clark’s new department, through combined regulation and policies.
However the vote to leave the EU followed by changes to government departments and personnel have left some questioning the government’s commitment towards the 2020 targets for renewable energy and building standards, which the signatories would like Theresa May’s new government to clarify.
It states: “Following the referendum, it is now critical that government restores this already-eroded confidence by giving an assurance that, until the terms of leaving the EU are in place, all relevant EU directives and targets are still in place and the UK Government is legally obliged to continue to meet them.”
The Renewable Energy Directive ties the UK to a target of 15% of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, with sub-targets of 30% renewable electricity, 12% heat and a binding target of 10% renewables in transport.
Despite questions marks over the UK’s ability to reach these obligations, Lord Bourne, who is still listed as parliamentary under secretary of state for climate change, said last week that the outcome of Brexit negotiations would determine the government’s response to the targets.
Addressing the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on 13 July, he said: “Until we know precisely how Brexit plays out in terms of the energy union, because there are countries who are part of the energy union that are not part of the EU, it’s difficult to say exactly how this plays outs.
“But at the moment we’re certainly working on the basis that these remain relevant and binding on the United Kingdom.”
The uncertainty reflected in Bourne’s comments has sparked the concerns reflected in the open letter to Clark, particularly in light of the decision to shut down DECC and leave the EU.
Dr Joanne Wade, chief executive of the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) which was one of the signatories of the latter, said: “The Brexit vote has caused industry uncertainty. Government must move quickly to confirm it will continue on a clear path to meeting key energy targets.”
As well as renewable energy targets, the letter is also calling for clarification on the UK’s acceptance of the nearly zero energy building (nzeb) requirement of the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD), another EU-set scheme.
This requires all new buildings constructed after 2020 to be built to European standards for high energy performance and to incorporate renewable energy sources to meet the low energy demand of each building.
The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) confirmed to sister title Clean Energy News in December 2015 that these standards would be written into 2020 building regulations. However, questions have been raised over the efficacy of this claim as the government is subject to a cost optimality review due for completion in 2017 before it can set these standards.
However, should the government decide not to hold itself to the requirements of the EPBD in light of the UK’s exit from the EU, it is still subject to a domestically legislated review into the cost effectiveness of building regulations to see how they can be improved.
Despite this back up assurance, signatories of the new letter would prefer a quick response to its calls for certainty over the targets, including an aim for UK final energy consumption to fall to 129.2 million tonnes of oil equivalent or less.
In spite of these calls, a spokesperson for the new BEIS department was unable to confirm the intentions of the new department: “We continue to make progress to meet our overall renewable energy target.”
Due to the close proximity of the major reshuffle under Theresa May, Greg Clark has yet to respond to the letter or release a briefing statement on his strategy, which could result in more pressures to come should this silence continue.
Jenny Holland, campaigns director at ACE, told Solar Power Portal: “If we don't get a response, which obviously I hope we will, or we get an equivocal response, then this is only the first shot across the bow. There will be many more, this is not the last word on the subject because this is something that industry and NGOs and others need and want clarity on.”