Our legal expert Stuart Farr considers the implications of the inevitable legislation that will be required for the Uk to reach its zero carbon emission targets
By the time the Prime Minister of this country announces the achievement (or otherwise) of the Net Zero carbon target in 2050, I will be an Octogenarian… I say that optimistically, of course, because the alternatives could prove quite different. However, assuming that to be the case, it’s possible my consumption of red meat will have reduced to what I am able to suck through a paper straw comfortably; my vehicle would have been long abandoned in favour of a battery-powered 4×4 bath chair; and the decades of accumulated poor pension performance will have rendered my aspiration of world travel down to a virtual tour of the last remaining ‘seventh wonder’ on the internet.
That said, I remain firmly intent on doing my bit for the environment, while recognising that my generations’ climate health credentials are not as good as they should be. So, during half term I engaged our eight-year-old daughter in a climate-change project. I declared her formal appointment as the family’s Climate Control Officer—a role that she approached with admirable enthusiasm. After counting all the plastics in the kitchen, rummaging through the waste and officiously stalking around the home tutting and exclaiming, she promptly announced her disgust at her parents’ acquisition of non-recyclable food packaging. Our supper for that evening, she demanded, should be sourced from loose ingredients sold by the local farm shop.
Pick ’n’ mix
Great idea it was, too. It got me thinking. Why don’t more retailers operate in a similar, old-fashioned ‘select and pack yourself’ style? When did we transition to numbered items of packaged products and move completely away from hand-picked and weight-measured loose items?
Imagine, for example, a customer entering a gun shop carrying an array of their own assorted recyclable containers and asking for the following: “5lb of Bismuth Bangers Size 5 from the pick ’n’ mix cartridge aisle, please; two strips of shotgun patches off the roll; a quart of finest gun oil; 6ft of dog lead; 2oz of pointed airgun pellets; and four candles”.
“No problem, Sir/Madam,” replies the helpful shopkeeper, “although we’re all out of fork handles so maybe try Barker & Corbett on the High Street.”
Be assured, I’m not seeking to poke fun but purely from a packaging perspective it’s not difficult to see how a bit of joined-up thinking can make a difference. Besides, it may be a long walk to 2050 but one only has to take stock of the Government’s recently announced strategy on the issue to realise that things are going to change rapidly pretty soon.
The net zero target is enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008 (as amended in 2019 to incorporate the zero-target obligation). More recently, in October 2021, further legal measures were announced by the Government to reduce effectively carbon output by 78% by 2035. On the whole, legal frameworks behind these zero carbon aspirations have yet to gather their full pace. Fear not, changes are already on the horizon. Yes, there’s still plenty of tree planting to be getting on with but scientists have realised that that is not going to be enough. Trees take time to grow and, frankly, there isn’t enough spare room on our seemingly cramped island for this strategy to achieve the zero target alone.
As I read through the strategy the message that came across to me between the lines was fairly simple: we got ourselves into this mess and, to some extent, we have declined to acknowledge it is even happening, so we’re all going to have to share the pain of getting ourselves out of it.
The obligation to go ‘green’ on individuals and households is going to manifest itself through low-carbon heating systems, electric vehicles and inevitably increased taxes. For businesses, there’s a strong hint there will be further added regulation and penalties for non-compliance.
Let’s consider a few examples and start with Energy Performance Certificates. The proposals involve directly linking the cost of mortgages to the attainment of certain minimum levels of energy
efficiency in properties. The strategy refers to ‘homes’ and ‘buildings’, which to me suggests there is no reason why these standards cannot equally apply to business premises. Indeed, this may occur almost by default as lenders adjust their systems to a new ‘climate based’ regime. Older, more rural or listed properties could decrease in value and prove difficult to sell if the future requirement to meet ‘green’ lending criteria is not met.
Transport is another obvious example. Our recently proven heavy dependency on fossil fuel-guzzling lorries is undoubtedly going to generate headaches for most businesses as the pressure to diverge away from them increases. Electrification of vehicles is receiving a massive funding boost. Resistance to this will ultimately be met by further regulation.
Most importantly, new regimes are being devised for all registered UK companies to provide Sustainability Disclosure Reports. The framework for this is going to be thrashed out during 2022, and while it is likely to begin with larger listed companies and those involved in investments and the finance sector, eventually additional reporting requirements will be created and they will apply across the whole corporate spectrum.
The aim of this measure is to reduce—and even eradicate—the phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing involves companies seeking to market or present themselves to the outside world as having wholesome green credentials when, in fact, their trading activities often reveal that that is not the case. Greenwashing has been heavily criticised by environmental groups because it misleads consumers and investors into thinking they are aligning themselves (and their money) with environmentally friendly organisations, when
sometimes that is far from the truth. Disclosure is seen as one way to cut through these green smoke screens, the aim being to provide accurate information within a proper regulatory framework.
So yes, the move toward net zero is receiving a fresh boost and, yes that boost will inevitably involve more regulation and administrative obligations on you across the gun trade. However, it is not just an administrative task or a tick box exercise. The thrust of the new announcements is to recognise the fact that the public want to see their money spent on initiatives that will have a positive impact on climate change and the environment. As such, those who are going to treat these requirements as purely administrative will do so at their own peril in the long term.
If you haven’t already started to consider what changes can be made to your individual situations to achieve this target, I would urge you to start pushing the issue towards the top of your list. The finance sector is going to be ahead of you, and it will dictate how much (or little) support you get in the not-too-distant future as it is forced to yield to the pressures of public accountability itself.
The gun trade is, of course, already familiar with environmental concerns having been involved in the thick of it for some years. Small changes can make big differences but knowing what is to come and preparing for it helps to maintain resilience, public support and respect for the good things you do already. Oh, and the pick ’n’ mix cartridge aisle/no packaging ideas are all yours for free.