Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee: Net Zero Governance Call for Evidence

Published: 1 September 2021

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee launched an inquiry on Net Zero governance, which examines the leadership and co-ordination which will be needed by government to deliver on the UK’s commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050.

The Committee’s inquiry will examine the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) leadership role in delivering Net Zero, how effectively the Department is driving co-ordinated action across Whitehall and the role that devolved administrations and local and regional authorities can play. The inquiry will also examine the Government’s success in engaging with public sector bodies, regulators, businesses and citizens on Net Zero and the role and oversight of Net Zero performance metrics in Government.

Energy Systems Catapult believes that the Climate Change Act 2008 provides a strong governance foundation to support cross-Government action to deliver Net Zero. The Act established the Climate Change Committee (CCC), providing the discipline of strong independent and expert scrutiny, which is world-leading and has been copied by other nations.

But while the CCC is focused on the what needs to be done and monitors the Government’s progress against its binding targets, its role is not to advise how such a transition takes place. The governance to support the delivery of Net Zero needs significant improvement.

Key points

The challenge of achieving the 2050 Net Zero target is truly a whole system; it will require change from all parts of the UK and all sectors of the economy. Helping 70 million people transition to a low carbon economy within a generation is likely to be a more complex and complicated challenge than the NASA moon landing in 1969. The UK should aim to provide a compelling example of decarbonisation for the rest of the world, building on its significant achievements in recent years, and thereby unlocking the considerable economic opportunities of the move to a cleaner economy.

  • The characteristics of Net Zero as a challenge – complexity, the need to bring together many disparate actors, agility, pace, uncertainty – underscore the need for strong central coordination of activity.
  • This is not the same as central planning or central control; such approaches are unlikely to be successful when faced with such a multifaceted, cross-economy challenge and where there are significant unknowns, including the behaviour of millions of people.
  • This is about architecting markets, regulatory processes, planning and infrastructure, and innovaton support so that they are working together to achieve Net Zero, and unlocking the necessary innovation.

The discipline of systems engineering was established to address challenges of such complexity. The paper by the Council for Science and Technology’s (CST), ‘A Systems Approach to Delivering Net Zero’ paper, provides an essential guide to how systems engineering could support the Government’s approach to this defining challenge.

Energy Systems Catapult supports such an approach in providing the framework of how the Government should be approaching a challenge like Net Zero. Systems engineering principles and approach can help support the delivery of a credible, viable and adaptive plan – a ‘Living Roadmap’ – to achieve Net Zero. It can also help manage risks in the transition and ensure that it supports wider societal goals, ranging from economic growth to improved air quality. Systems engineering does not attempt to design a ‘perfect’ Net Zero end-state in a prescriptive or deterministic way. Rather it aims to create the enabling conditions and environment (“system of systems”) in which innovative and desirable solutions can emerge.

The Catapult notes the introduction of the two Cabinet Committees focused on Net Zero, and the National Strategy Implementation Group (NSIG) for climate change. These are potentially powerful bodies to provide the co-ordinating role that is necessary for meeting the challenge of Net Zero, and are a welcome innovation. However, it is very difficult to assess the effectiveness of these bodies as their work is not transparent to those outside Government.

  • Successful delivery of Net Zero will require governance that fulfils four functions: analysis, strategy, delivery, and learning. Any new governance proposals should be tested against how they deliver those functions.