Imperial academics respond to government net zero announcements


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Imperial College London academics have responded to a series of announcements on the UK's net zero policy made earlier this week.

In a speech on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak MP announced a range of policy commitments delaying previous UK net zero targets. He stated that he was not slowing down the UK's ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and said that the U.K. had overdelivered on previous commitments. He noted that the U.K. has reduced emissions faster than any other country in the G7.

In response to this, Imperial's position is as follows:

It is vital that the UK continues to commit to net zero policy and a clear pathway towards achieving net zero carbon emissions on an ambitious timescale. This represents a tremendous opportunity for innovation and investment, as well as an essential contribution to tackling global climate change. Previous ambitious plans enabled the country to develop a competitive advantage across a range of industries crucial to achieving net zero, due in no small part to clear, consistent policy signals from government. Consistent frameworks allow businesses to make the infrastructure and R&D investments that will lead to the innovation needed and build eco-systems to grow the climate start-ups with the solutions needed to achieve out net zero goals. Innovation needs to be complemented by stable long-term policies if we are to continue to attract key investment and talent.

The cost of delay risks losing this competitive edge to global competitors, and the UK’s credibility as a leader on climate change action. To realise a sustainable, zero pollution future, we need to continue to translate science into evidence-based policymaking. Imperial College London will continue to play its part, working with academia, business, investors and policymakers to create solutions for a sustainable future. 

In addition, senior academics from across Imperial have made the following statements:

Imperial’s Vice-Provost for Research and Enterprise, Professor Mary Ryan CBE FREng says:

"The government’s own independent review into the economic benefits of net zero described it as the ‘growth opportunity of the 21st century’ and that the UK’s leadership on tackling change had not only ‘delivered real change at home [but] led to a global transformation in how countries and companies now view the importance of taking action on net zero.’ Rather than slowing down progress towards net zero, the government should be doubling down on climate action to ensure the UK can capitalise on the benefits that the net zero transition can bring to businesses and communities across the country. The government’s decision to delay our some of our key net zero goals risks destabilizing a growing green tech innovation ecosystem. At Imperial, we remain committed to working with our communities and partners to innovate in response to the climate challenge."  

Head of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor Washington Yotto Ochieng FREng, says: 

"The rate at which changes are occurring to the planet is alarming, and we are already not responding quickly enough to deal with the main drivers responsible for these changes. A key challenge requires heating our built environment from non-polluting sources, a challenge which requires sustained action to retrofit and upgrade many millions of buildings in the UK with a range of customised solutions. Further delays to the actions that would contribute to mitigating climate change will only exacerbate the long-term challenges and economic consequences that we will face in future. We need to accelerate progress to net zero, not slow down - the government’s recent announcements risk creating insufficient investment, limited scaling up of market capacity, and ultimately an inability to achieve net zero pollution." 

Head of Department of Chemical Engineering, Professor Omar Matar FREng says:

“The transition to a zero-pollution future requires a truly joined-up approach to problem solving. This is an opportunity for the UK to take strong and consistent action and be a key driver of global transformation in this field. We must avoid potentially losing all the gains we have made in this area to our competitors.”

Head of Department of Materials, Professor Sandrine Heutz says:

“This announcement comes at a time when we should be accelerating our research and development programmes.  Research in materials provides a route to achieving net zero goals – be it in the underpinning routes for renewable energies, new batteries in electric cars, or decarbonisaiton of industries.  What we need now is sustained investments in these sectors."  

Head of Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Professor Tina van de Flierdt says:  

"The impacts of climate change are felt by people all over the world, they are not scientific predictions of the future, but are realities right now. To keep global warming below the 2 degrees we must shift our focus to shorter term targets and make the 2020s the decade where action is delivered. Delaying decarbonising the transport sector and built environment is not compatible with the UK’s ambition as a climate change action leader and the growth opportunities that result from it."

Director of the Centre for Environmental Policy, Professor Jem Woods says:

"For moral, political, social and economic reasons the UK must accelerate its net zero pathway and associated policies. The consequences of not doings so are likely to be damaging to the UK and risk the UK’s leadership in this field."

Co-Director of the Hitachi-Imperial Centre for Decarbonisation and Natural Climate Solutions, Dr Mirabelle Muuls says:

"The opportunities that the transition to a zero-carbon society present can only materialise with clear and strong policies to align businesses and citizens’ interests. The government’s decisions will lead to higher emissions on the path to net-zero and beyond: this will be harmful to current and future generations."

Director of Innovation of the Grantham Institute, Alyssa Gilbert says:

“In recent years, innovators and investors have put their roots down and invested in the UK because strong and consistent policy signals to rapidly reduce emissions from buildings, transport and the power sector gave them confidence in the market opportunity here. Business entrepreneurs and investors we work with all demand stronger and more consistent policies and investors, jobs and money crowd into these innovative spaces. At a time when the US and other European countries are putting forward ambitious policy and investments to attract climate innovations and provide a supportive environment for industries of the future to flourish, it is mind-boggling that our government is destabilising the UK’s biggest competitive advantage – our no-cost, stable policy environment.” 

Dr Ralf Martin, Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School and Programme Director of the Growth Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, says: 

“Our research has consistently shown that investment in clean technologies is not only important for achieving climate goals but is also aligned with achieving higher and more inclusive growth across the UK.”

Key Imperial net zero initiatives 

Hitachi-Imperial Centre for Decarbonisation and Natural Climate Solutions is a joint research centre between Imperial College London, Hitachi, Ltd. And Hitachi Europe Ltd. The Centre will enable a fundamental and applied research programme to be established where Imperial and Hitachi will collaborate on selected research projects, reports and white papers on the challenges and technologies need in reaching Net Zero.

Launched in 2022, the Centre will be a platform to bring together researchers from different faculties and disciplines, to build a truly multidisciplinary, holistic programme, taking a systems-thinking approach to embed both technical and socio-economic/policy aspects to deliver transformative and translatable solutions.

Transition to Zero Pollution is an Imperial College London initiative to build new partnerships between research, industry and government - from fundamental science and engineering, systems thinking, human health, new business models, and policymaking - to realise our vision of a sustainable zero pollution future.

The initiative fosters systems-thinking, discovery science, transformational cross-disciplinary research, technology and innovation to create and translate holistic socio-technical solutions to pollution in all its forms, including carbon dioxide.


Pete Ford

Pete Ford
Office of the President


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