In this short-lived breathing space between last week’s Net Zero barrage and next week’s CoP26 frenzy, it seems timely to reflect on how it all stacks up so far.

After months of delay, Boris Johnson and his fractious Ministers finally moved into warp drive in issuing their Net Zero Strategy. It’s as shambolic an eructation as one might expect from this particular Prime Minister at this particular time. To spare hard-pressed readers, I’ve focused below on just two principal areas: the Heat and Buildings Strategy, and the latest nuclear announcements. First, however, by way of overview:

    1. Do not doubt this is for real. For sure, it’s muddled, manipulative, repetitive and hopelessly inadequate when set against what the science of climate change tells us is now needed. But it’s still for real, with big money, vaulting ambition, and enough substance to keep us ticking over until the reality of what’s REALLY needed kicks in.
    2. It’s certainly enough to persuade investors and the private sector that this is now the irreversible direction of travel. The ‘90 billion of private sector investment by 2030, creating 444,000 jobs’ is just a stab in the dark, but that doesn’t make it any less of a game-changer.
    3. There are plenty of encouraging bits and bobs in there, including a firm commitment to spend up to £750 million on its Nature for Climate Fund by 2025, and a welcome determination to work with the private sector in accelerating the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuels.
    4. Some of the additional detail about the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles after 2030 is also welcome – particularly a proposed mandate for car manufacturers to ensure minimum percentages of Electric Vehicles between now and then.
    5. All of which comes on top of some regurgitated (but still critical) commitments to 40 GW of new offshore wind by 2030 (including 1GW of floating wind turbines) and to the complete decarbonization of our Electricity Supply Industry by 2035, with or without nuclear power – see below!
    6. The Treasury would appear to be reasonably comfortable with this part of Building Back Greener. Its accompanying Net Zero Review (recognizing some of the benefits as well as the costs of transitioning to Net Zero) was surprisingly balanced. Its decision (after consultation) to force companies to publish their Net Zero transition plans is particularly welcome.

Which tells us that the ‘irreconcilable divide’ between No. 10 and No. 11 has been somewhat overdone. It’s true that Rishi Sunak is keener to curry favour with the newly-created Net Zero Scrutiny Group (essentially, the same bunch of head-banging Tory zealots that forced Boris Johnson into his ‘Brexit-at-any-cost’ fundamentalism), but that’s more about slowing things down rather than stopping them.

So does all this provide ‘an exemplar for other countries’ in the run up to CoP26? NO, IT DOES NOT.

Does this make the UK ‘fighting fit for the green Industrial Revolution’? NO, IT DOES NOT.

Does it map out a strategy for ‘working with the grain of consumer choice’? NO, IT DOES NOT.

Does it ensure a genuinely ‘just transition’, unambiguously exiting from the world of fossil fuels while supporting those whose jobs will inevitably be lost in the process? NO, IT DOES NOT.

That’s the high-level summary. Time to dig down into the detail – on two crunch issues: HEAT and NUCLEAR.


Disappointment, deception and denial – these are the three words that most succinctly summarize the Government’s new Heat and Building Strategy.

It may sound boring, but this Strategy really matters – in terms of its overall contribution to the Net Zero Strategy, its potential to improve the lives of the millions of people still living in chronic fuel poverty, and the opportunity to create tens of thousands of high quality, skilled jobs. It was due 15 months ago, and it would have been so good if that delay had been all about getting it right – on each of these three counts. In reality, it’s been all about BEIS salvaging what it could from the penny-pinching clutches of the Treasury.


At the heart of the Heat and Building Strategy is £3.9 billion of what is claimed to be new money, providing for an extension of the Social Housing Decarbonization Fund, a new Home Upgrade Grant scheme, £1.4 billion for the Public Sector Decarbonization scheme, and a new Heat Networks Transformation Programme.

Beyond that, the Press Release focused on a new £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme (to be introduced in April next year) providing grants of up to £5,000 for homeowners to replace their gas boilers with electric heat pumps, as well as a further £60 million to help drive down the costs of heat pumps over the next decade.


Ministers are making out that the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is a big improvement on the current situation. As it happens, it’s actually LESS generous than the current Renewable Heat Incentive – under which a homeowner can get £1,000 a year for seven years for installing a heat pump.

The BUS offers a one-off grant of £5,000 a pop, and will run for just three years. With a total of £450 million in the BUS pot, that amounts to precisely 90,000 new heat pumps. Exactly how this matches up with the overall target of 600,000 heat pumps to be installed every year by 2028, as announced with characteristic braggadocio by Boris Johnson in his 10 Point Plan in November last year, is yet to be revealed.

But there’s a much deeper deception at work here. The emphasis in this Strategy is all about swapping out boilers for electric heat pumps in people’s homes – regardless of how efficient or inefficient that home might be. The emphasis on FABRIC FIRST (through better insulated, better ventilated buildings) has all but disappeared, meaning that much of the benefit of a more efficient source of heat will still be lost through leaky, often damp and unhealthy, exploitatively costly buildings. Not much’ levelling up’ going on here.


The actions of Insulate Britain (however ill-judged their tactics) have reminded us of the scale of the UK’s retrofit crisis.

But it’s clear that Ministers still hope to sort out this crisis on the cheap, with one short-term scheme after another, ignoring the benefits of working closely with Local Authorities across the country, particularly with England’s Metro Mayors, and failing to grasp the nettle of building up supply chains and creating hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs over the next decade.

With at least 2.5 million people still living in fuel poverty in the UK, with at least 10,000 excess winter deaths every year, and with more than 19 million properties with Energy Performance Certificates below the minimum C grade, this Strategy represents failure on a massive scale.


If the bosses of EDF know their English military history, they must have detected that Boris Johnson and the Grand Old Duke of York have a lot in common. A careful consideration of the Government’s new Net Zero Strategy tells us nothing new about its plans for nuclear power – indeed, this must be at least the fourth time that Boris has marched his pro-nuclear troops up to the top of the hill only to march them promptly back down again.

Despite endless trails that this was going to be EDF’s big ‘Go, Sizewell, Go’ moment, it was nothing of the sort. It offers nothing that wasn’t in Boris’s Ten Point Plan, in the Energy White Paper, or in other Government statements: a final Investment Decision on another big reactor (with Sizewell not even explicitly named) will be made by ‘the end of this Parliament’, and even then it will be subject to ‘value for money and relevant approvals’.

Given that the Planning Inspectorate recommended refusal of planning permission for a new reactor at Wylfa, on the basis of significant environmental impacts, the prospects for Sizewell C don’t look good. Its impact on the local environment would be infinitely more serious than Wylfa’s.

I can’t help thinking that EDF might be secretly relieved at all this. Apparently, President Macron is about to announce up to six new EPR reactors – in the hope that this will appeal to millions of French voters currently drifting into the arms of the super-nationalistic right wing.

If anyone supposes that EDF (with its already horrendous balance sheet) is in any kind of position:

    • To take on six new EPRs;
    • To finish off the two ongoing EPR disasters at Flamanville and Olkiluoto;
    • To complete construction of Hinkley Point C to ensure no further delays;
    • To accelerate investment in the ‘life extension programme’ for its existing nuclear reactors in France at a cost of around €50bn;
    • And then to take on another new reactor at Sizewell C (with a price tag of up to £20bn, but without any support from the Chinese now that the UK Government has decided to terminate its involvement in the UK’s nuclear industry) –

then they must be (borderline) insane.

That’s the big stuff. On the notionally smaller stuff, the Net Zero strategy has more warm words about the much-hyped Small Modular Reactors, but not much else. Rolls-Royce may feel somewhat relieved that the SMR gravy train is still on the tracks, with a further £120m promised through a Future Nuclear Enabling Fund – though who knows if this is new gravy or old gravy. It probably doesn’t matter one way or the other: the idea that a fleet of new SMRs is going to come online in time to make any kind of material contribution to our Net Zero target by 2050 is total pie in the sky.

But the charade goes on. The pro-nuclear troops keep getting marched up and down that hill. Meanwhile, the things that really need doing now (a serious, fit-for-purpose retrofit scheme for the UK’s wretchedly unfit housing stock, mass investment in new battery manufacturing, serious, consistent support to bring down the cost of heat pumps, etc etc) are all there in the Net Zero Strategy, but starved of the kind of long-term strategic support they so urgently need.

God knows what historians will make of this – and of the massive opportunity costs entailed in persevering with this whole fleet of nuclear fantasies.