Government restructure - a successful attempt to progress net zero?February 2023

The new department for energy security and net zero will, according to government, be "tasked with securing our long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation". This update comes after the former department of business and energy dissolved as part of the reorganisation within government.

Opposition parties say the shake-up of government departments will cost taxpayers millions of pounds, which with the energy prices soaring and the heat firmly on to get the UK’s carbon emissions down, will not come as welcome news for many sectors, particularly – construction.

The separation of these responsibilities across various departments, is intended (we hope!) to give clearer focus within government and wider industries whilst at the same time, provide a bigger stage on which both energy and net zero can be discussed. The real question is: will it? Will it zoom in on the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s 2022 report to parliament? Will it tackle the big unanswered questions, such as the achievement of 2050 targets? Will it brave the choppy waters of energy supply as we move from gas to electricity and bite the eternal bullet of the retrofitting of millions of draughty and cold homes? Will the department simply rebrand existing policy? Or will this new department finally set about putting some of the much-needed guidance/funding in place? BSRIA would expect some of these questions to be addressed by parliament in due course, but as we wait, we reflect on events to date.

The UK has already halved its emissions since 1990.  We are midway to net zero in 2050, in both timing and progress against our climate targets. The problem is, we’ve now caught all the low hanging fruit and the second half of our economy will be far more challenging to decarbonise.  Most of the ‘easy wins’ within individual government silos have now been done, and what’s left to do requires much closer collaboration across sectors.

The ‘Mission Zero’ independent review by Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, agrees that some of the largest decarbonisation challenges are shared across different parts of Government: Housing sits across DLUHC and BEIS; Green economy BEIS, DIT, HMT, DfE and more; Land use BEIS, Defra, and others. Interactions therefore between these policy areas are complicated. A cross sectoral focus on energy security and net zero might be just what’s needed. Ultimately this needs to be a collaboration, with the baton being passed over and not dropped entirely at each turn. Hopefully this alliance will not be hindered by the removal of departments which could assist in bringing about this change – science, innovation and technology!

The impact of focusing energy security and net zero within the same department might help elevate the urgency of the topic in people’s minds.  The challenge is that ‘energy security’ is seen as energy generated by fossil fuels and nuclear.  We must use this opportunity to change the narrative of energy security.  In truth, all evidence says that the most powerful tools to address energy security and net zero together are: renewables and demand reduction.  There is no glamour here, just hard and consistent graft. 

The current energy crisis makes it unmistakeably clear that energy efficiency/demand reduction is the most futureproof approach to energy security. We hope that this along with sustainability and affordability will be the central focus of the new department for energy security and net zero moving forward.