UK Refuses to Release Document Showing Net Zero CO2 Savings

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Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk, UK

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The UK government has refused a Freedom of Information request to release a spreadsheet showing how its historic Net Zero strategy will reduce carbon emissions for individual measures, such as supporting a new nuclear power plant and the installation of new electric car chargers.

The withholding of the document smacks of “secrecy and subterfuge” and prevents the public from being able to question the estimated impacts of the measures, said Ed Matthew of the E3G climate change think tank.

Government publication Net Zero Strategy October 19 was a key moment before the COP26 Climate Summit, detailing how the UK plans to meet its 2050 commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come.

Previous government plans for decarbonization, such as the 2020 10-point green plan and 2017 clean growth strategy, have made estimates of exactly how much individual policies will reduce emissions. But the Net Zero strategy failed to provide such a breakdown, which observers said showed a lack of transparency that hampered independent scrutiny.

Government officials acknowledged that there was a spreadsheet with all the numbers, but said they would not release it. Today, the Ministry of Economic, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) refused a request for access to information by New Scientist to publish the document. He denied the request on the grounds that it involved the disclosure of internal communications.

The public interest does not outweigh the need to keep these communications private, says the BEIS FOI team. “We have concluded that the zero net strategy itself contains appropriate details at this stage for the public to engage in our decarbonization proposals,” they wrote in a letter.

The UK is on track for its legally binding carbon targets for the years 2020 and 2030s, a trajectory that the strategy claims to rectify. But the strategy doesn’t provide enough detail to independently judge, Matthew says. “If BEIS is so confident in their calculations, why are they so afraid to make them public? ” he says. “They cannot be instructed to mark their own homework and should make their calculations public immediately.”

The strategy shows high-level estimates of how much emissions will change for different sectors, such as electricity, buildings and agriculture, by 2050. But it does not break down individual measures, including support for new hydrogen production or develop new small nuclear power plants, both of which will be backed by hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding.

“Ministers are behaving like a shady dealer asking customers to buy a product without seeing it first,” says John Sauven of Greenpeace UK. He asks BEIS to release the spreadsheet: “The best thing would be for the government to release the numbers behind the plan and allow the experts to put the tires on them.”

The document will likely include estimates of the extent of the use of various technologies and their impacts on greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. There may be a time lag between what the government has publicly committed to, such as Conservative Party manifesto pledges to quadruple offshore wind capacity by 2030, and the estimates that are used, for example.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “There is nothing secret about the UK’s Net Zero strategy, the first of its kind in a large economy. It describes in detail how we are going to move towards a green future.

New Scientist appealed the decision not to publish the document.

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