Different shade of green
20 September 2023
Eyebrows were raised today when Rishi Sunak announced changes to the government’s strategy for achieving Net Zero by 2050. He maintains that his new approach is pragmatic rather than dogmatic and will reduce costs for low-income households.
The prime minister said that the UK’s success in reducing greenhouse gases more than any other G7 nation in percentage terms allows for a reduction in pace, while maintaining the overall direction of travel.
Headline announcements include a rolling back to 2035 of the ban on selling new diesel and petrol cars, from 2030. This, he said, brings the UK into line with countries like France, Germany, Spain and certain US states. People will also be able to sell second hand cars after that date.
Rishi Sunak said that sales of electric vehicles are already accelerating, with a new registration every 60 seconds, but that the focus should be on improving the national charging infrastructure – something the Site-Eco section of the blog has highlighted repeatedly.
Similarly, no-one will be forced to replace a gas or oil boiler with an electric heat pump. This will only be necessary after 2035 and even then just when a unit has reached the end of its life.
However, many are frustrated by the chopping and changing in government policy.
For example, within minutes of Rishi Sunak’s statement, Chris Cassley, Policy Manager of the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) said: “The announcement by the prime minister adds confusion to the construction equipment sector on its efforts to remove diesel from sites and move towards alternative fuels.
“Like all business sectors, the construction plant-hire sector has a key role to play in decarbonisation. CPA members want clarity and consistency in government policy when it comes to long established policies that impact on investment decisions, and the development of new diesel free technologies in construction plant.
“The Prime Minister’s speech does nothing to help this process and further throws into doubt future investment decisions and efforts to decarbonise the construction plant fleets of the future.”
Similarly, Suneeta Johal, CEO of the Construction Equipment Association (CEA), commented: "In recent years, the construction equipment sector has taken significant leaps in embracing alternative fuels and pioneering electric machinery. Our prevailing agenda revolves around decarbonisation, with a clear vision directed toward achieving net-zero emissions.
“Members of the CEA have collectively poured millions into research and development, striving to be at the forefront of sustainable innovation. It's both disheartening and frustrating when, after such substantial investment and progress, the metaphorical goalposts seem to shift, making it challenging for our members to plan and execute their long-term strategies with confidence.
“Such announcements create ambiguity in the construction equipment industry, especially in its endeavours to phase out diesel and transition to alternative energy sources,” she continued. “Every industry, including the construction equipment rental sector, holds a pivotal position in the transition to a greener future.
“Our members at the CEA are in pursuit of transparent and stable governmental policies, particularly those that have been in place for a while and influence pivotal investment choices, as well as the innovation of diesel-free solutions for construction machinery. Regrettably, the Prime Minister's remarks don't facilitate this mission and instil further uncertainty about future investments and the green transition for upcoming construction equipment fleets.”
Perhaps, then, the main problem is how difficult it can be to agree comprehensive, long-term strategies to achieve major infrastructure goals.
All too often, policies change purely because of short-term, party-political whims rather than genuine need. And the same criticism could apply to house building, the NHS, education and policing.
If there were a consensus on the overall objectives and strategy on such topics, we would all know where we stood.
Nevertheless, perhaps a more positive takeaway from the prime minister’s statement was his belief in the technology sector to develop new solutions that will deliver greater advances within a shorter time frame. After all, a Covid-19 vaccine was delivered in a matter of months rather than the originally anticipated two to three years.
And you only need to look at the products and strategies highlighted from hirers and suppliers to see the innovation and expertise that exists. So on the journey to Net Zero, there will be many exciting new developments to report on.
Photo: David Zydd