Since 2019, and especially in the wake of the UK presidency of COP26, the Johnson government has tried hard to sharpen its image as a serious actor in the fight against climate Cbreakdown. In practice, this has meant focusing on innovation and transformation in the energy sector and across the low-carbon technology space. Early this March, for example the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy formally launched its Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF), the latest in a series of schemes aimed at stimulating the expansion of the green energy market. (Heat networks are essentially pipe systems that distribute heat to multiple buildings from a central source. They do away with the need for properties to have their own individual boilers, and they make use of heat that would otherwise be wasted).
Alongside the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP), the GHNF is a welcome plank in the government’s long-term decarbonization efforts. Both may well be crucial in the coming years if COP26’s Glasgow Climate Pact—with its continued promise to limit global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—is to be fulfilled. These programmes are typical of the Johnson government’s Net Zero funding strategy in that they prioritise innovation in the design, manufacture and roll-out of new technologies in both public and private sectors. As made clear in the 2019 Ten Point Plan, the government is keen to stake its claim not straightforwardly as a leader in environmental policy broadly conceived but more specifically as an incubator of a green technological revolution. Initiatives like the GNHF are part of this innovation-oriented industrial strategy, and much of the government’s green agenda is best understood within this
Technological innovation in the generation and distribution of energy will be central to the climate strategies of successive British governments; however, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that this is only part of the solution. As well as limiting new emissions, we need to remove carbon from the atmosphere. As demonstrated by the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C from the Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “all analysed pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot include Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)” alongside the better known initiatives that reduce emissions. While CDR technology is still a relatively new area of innovation, the UK government’s NZIP has so far included several different CDR-focused grant schemes such as the recent Hydrogen BECCS (Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) Innovation programme.