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  • Writer's pictureStuart Merali-Younger

COP 26, Net Zero and the Critical Role of Policy Evaluation

World leaders, climate experts and environmental campaigners descended on Glasgow for COP26 in what felt like a make-or-break summit for climate change. A climate-anxious global population nervously watched, and hoped, that the political will and capability to develop solutions and common resolutions could be found to help steer our path towards global net zero by 2050.

Optimistically, my sense is that the urgency and political will for change is growing and will continue to do so. However, the ability for the UK and the rest of the world to find the solutions that can achieve this, and to do so in a way that is affordable for every country, is perhaps the greatest public policy challenge of our generation.

Carbon emissions need to be reduced or removed from the heating in our homes and offices, the fuel in our cars and the flights we take for our holidays. Likewise, from the power stations, factories and industries that produce the goods and services we consume each year.

The diversity of these energy uses, and the stakeholders involved is vast, but increasingly so too are the range of possible solutions now in development. As many experts are already highlighting, we now largely have the technology that could enable us to achieve net zero in the UK. The challenge is that a lot of it is still expensive and not yet sufficiently refined or tested at scale. Securing reliable zero-carbon solutions, that are scalable, at an affordable cost is therefore critical for the UK if we are to reach our net zero target by 2050.

Robust monitoring and evaluation practices can challenge programmes and help deliver greater efficiencies, helping to answer key questions such as:

  • Which policies and programmes are most effective at achieving carbon savings for different energy uses?

  • Which organisations are best placed to deliver these?

  • What level of incentives or subsidies are needed to encourage people to switch to net zero products and technologies, for example, electric cars or heat pumps in their homes?

  • To what extent are programmes effectively stimulating low carbon markets in a way that helps make them more cost competitive and enabling them to grow?

The solutions for achieving emissions reductions in the areas of domestic, commercial, industrial and transport uses and in energy generation will need interventions across all branches of government, from UK government departments and devolved administrations to local and combined authorities. Interventions addressing climate change are already being delivered and if we are to build a deeper understanding of what works in transitioning to net zero approaches for each type of energy use, there is an urgent need for high quality monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes, and the lessons need to be shared, as openly as possible.

Evaluation practices are also important for helping to identify any risks of unintended consequences from policies. One of the most publicised examples of this was the Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Incentive, which became known as the Cash for Ash scandal. Some applicants to the scheme gamed the system and claimed subsidies for generating renewable heat that they did not need, in order to profit from it. Learning lessons from evaluating the way policy is implemented and using this to refine schemes and address unintended consequences will continue to be critical in ensuring effective policies to combat climate change.

As well as seeking to be a world leader in the fight against climate change, the UK is a leader in the quality and robustness of research and evaluation in policy making. The HM Treasury Green Book and Magenta Book, which guide work around appraisal and evaluation of policy are well-respected and drawn on by policy makers in countries across the world. The evaluation of programmes to tackle climate change in the UK at all levels can provide evidence not only to support the many transitions that will need to happen in the UK in the years and decades ahead but could also provide valuable evidence that supports other parts of the world with their targets, and ultimately with the shared global challenge of achieving net zero.

Wavehill is a specialist research and evaluation consultancy – we regularly work for UK Government, Welsh Government, local and combined authorities, and local enterprise partnerships around the evaluation of programmes supporting renewable energy and addressing climate change. We are passionate about the need for clear and robust programme evaluation, and the critical value that it can bring in effective policy making.

If you would like to know more about our work in this area, please contact Stuart Merali-Younger


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