Environmental politics
News of the week: 14th April

Each week, Greenhouse Public Affairs will provide a policy and political insights report across sectors including energy, transport and the environment. You can sign up to our weekly round-up here.

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Environment and COP26

The Environmental Audit Committee has urged Ministers to ensure the climate crisis remains a top priority despite the postponement of COP26.

With expectations that COP26 will be rescheduled for 2021, the extra time gives the UK an opportunity to deliver greater success in the talks. However, it is vital that the delay does not lead to the climate crisis slipping down the list of priorities.

Despite the postponement, a number of commitments under the Paris Agreement are due to be delivered this year. These include the enhancement of Governments’ nationally determined contributions, the invitation to provide long-term strategies, the pathways to decarbonisation to net zero in 2050, and the promise of $100 billion a year to help the poorest countries green their economies.

The Committee is asking what progress has been made on delivering these core objectives for COP26.

Find the full press release here.

Transport

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has published new statistics this week, indicating a 44.4% fall in new car registrations in the UK this March. In the important plate change month saw 203,370 fewer cars registered than in March 2019, as showrooms closed in line with government advice to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Despite the circumstances, sales of electric vehicles still enjoyed impressive growth, with a 197.4% increase compared to this time last year. Read the full report here.

On Monday, significant changes to benefit-in-kind (BiK) rules came into effect, reducing tax on fully-electric vehicles purchased through company car schemes scrapped from 16% to zero. Costs will rise to just one percent next year and to two percent by 2022 but this will then be frozen for a further two years. Industry experts welcomed the move as a ‘significant milestone’ for EV adoption, proving an immediate boost to EV ownership but also creating demand for the second hand market in two to three years’ time. Read more in edie.net here.

The High Court this week found that car manufacturer Volkswagen used ‘defeat devices’ to subvert key air pollution monitoring and reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides under test conditions.

The judge, Justice Waksman, wrote in his summary: “[After considering the arguments made by Volkswagen] the upshot was that I found that the software function in the vehicles here did indeed amount to a prohibited ‘defeat device’… I also concluded that VW’s attempt to relitigate the issue here was an abuse of the process. A software function which enables a vehicle to pass the test because (artificially) it operates the vehicle in a way which is bound to pass the test and in which it does not operate on the road is a fundamental subversion of the test … it destroys the utility of the test.”

 The Guardian reports that around 91,000 claimants are taking Volkswagen to court in one of the biggest ‘class action’ cases – group litigation orders – yet to be heard in England and Wales. Volkswagen has been found guilty in the US, however in Europe the carmaker has denied that it cheated tests.

Energy

The Environmental Audit Committee has today launched a new inquiry considering how British innovation could hold the key to tackling climate change, with an early focus on offshore wind.

The UK has taken a leading role in the development and deployment of some low-carbon technologies, but the Committee on Climate Change has already identified a number of technologies which have fallen short of expectations on performance or cost.

The first session of the inquiry, Technological Innovation and Climate Change, will look at offshore wind power. The UK has the largest market in the world for offshore wind, and over the past 10 years, wind power has grown rapidly due to reductions in the costs of constructing and operating wind power facilities. Every year the UK has seen a steady increase in the amount of electricity being generated by wind power, with statistics for 2019 showing a 3% increase to 20%.

Details on formal evidence sessions will be announced in due course. Read more about the inquiry here.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has successfully utilised low-carbon energy generation on Islay, to avoid 2,450 tonnes of CO2 emissions, and save customers £230,000 in the process. This marks an important milestone for the UK energy system, as low-carbon technology has supported system security in an economically viable manner on the Isle of Islay.

The transition to a smarter, low-carbon and cost-effective energy system is underway, and SSEN has successfully utilised its ‘Constraint Managed Zones’ (CMZs) to support security of supply on Islay. CMZ contracts are a central part of SSEN’s ‘flexibility first’ commitment, whereby flexible options such as renewables and energy storage are considered when addressing network issues prior to investing in traditional reinforcement. Read the full report here.

If you would like to talk to us about political engagement and public affairs, email us at public.affairs@greenhousepr.co.uk

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