Mission Zero

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.53289/GTLL1854

A mission to deliver net zero

Chris Skidmore MP

The Rt Hon Chris Skidmore OBE has been MP for Kingswood since 2010. He served as Universities and Science Minister twice between 2018 and 2020, as well as spending a period as a Minister in the Department for Health and Social Care. He is a member of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. In September 2022, he was asked to chair the Net Zero Review, the report being published under the title Mission Zero.


  • Much of the UK’s efforts on net zero are front-loaded and need to be achieved in the next five years
  • A mission-based approach will help the UK deliver net zero
  • Delivering net zero requires a ‘whole society’ approach to policy making
  • Economic success for the UK will come in designing green solutions for the world
  • A political consensus is needed if we are to reach our goal.

It is important to recognise that net zero is not just about 2050. There is a tendency to think of it as a 28-year project, but when we come to look at the politics and the decisions about implementation of net zero, it is clear that the choices we make in this decade – indeed, in this year – will determine whether we meet our national determined contribution, or NDC, that was set at the Glasgow climate pact.

Now, had someone told me back in 2019 that 90% of the world's GDP would now be subject to net zero targets, I simply would not have believed it. There has been enormous progress, both in the UK and internationally. For most countries to achieve net zero, whether in 2050 or 2060 (or 2070 for China), they must meet the targets they have set for 2030 or the project will unwind.

‘Net zero by 2050’ was not a target set in isolation, it was established in order to limit global temperature increase to 1.5˚C. The IPCC has concluded that the likelihood of reaching that target is now small. We have up until the middle of the next decade, at best, to maintain that target. So the policy debate on net zero is real and present.


The UK has one of the most ambitious NDCs: 68% emissions reductions on 1990 levels by 2030, and 78% by 2035. Much of the work has been front-loaded and will need to be achieved in the next five years. That is why the review1 argues that the UK should not fall behind in the race to net zero. The Inflation Reduction Act was signed in the US during the period of the review and it has created entirely new paradigm, a new narrative. Even if there were no climate crisis, we should be taking these steps anyway, just for the opportunities it provides for the UK’s future. There is no future economy that is not also a green economy.

Politicians like US President Joe Biden recognise that, in the future, every second job will be a green job. Increasingly, green jobs are mainstream: they are engineering jobs, science jobs, retrofitting jobs, and a host of other mainstream jobs that anyone could aspire to.

The review’s terms of reference were to look at how the UK can achieve net zero in a more affordable and efficient manner, one that is pro-business and pro-growth. If we over-promise and under-deliver on the initial targets set for 2030 and beyond, how will the public trust politicians to deliver in the future? So there is a lot riding on our ability to deliver on our targets in the short to medium term.

In drawing up the report and its conclusions, we decided to take a mission-based approach, which allows us to provide the long-term policy certainty needed for a transition that is more affordable and more efficient. If we want to de-risk the cost of capital and investment, bring down the cost of developing and implementing technology, reduce labour costs for the supply chains, we must commit the upfront investment sooner rather than later, as delay only adds to the cost of delivery.

The impact of ‘not zero’ is not just the loss of economic benefit by not being a leader in future climate technologies like hydrogen, CCUS and new nuclear, but failure to act on mitigation will impact on adaptation for the future and result in huge cost to the UK. So the review set out a paradigm of certainty, clarity, consistency and continuity: four ‘C’s that will define our missions. We set out ten 10-year missions that will begin in 2025. This is the midway point towards 2050, five years from the NDC for 2030. While we should continue where we have already been very successful – such as with offshore wind – the primary mission must be around grid and infrastructure.

Whole society

Net zero is not just the responsibility of central Government, though. Some 50% of all net zero decisions will need to be made outside of Government, which will require a ‘whole society’ approach to policy making. Local and regional authorities, in particular, need greater powers and responsibilities in order to deliver the greatest impact as quickly as possible.

Of course, 2050 is the overall UK target. Scotland has chosen 2045, Wales and Northern Ireland have 2055. But then, Manchester wants 2038 while Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and other cities are powering further ahead. Now, internationally, most countries are off track on their NDCs, but of 40 of the world’s big cities, the majority are on track to deliver their net zero commitments by 2050. So we should empower those who are able to go further and faster, while at the same time working closely with those who need additional support and investment. There are hard-to-abate areas, countrysides with agricultural impacts, industrial areas with historic carbon-intensive industries.

So the review proposed a 10-year mission approach for a number of sectors. I am particularly keen to focus on solar, because I believe a 70 gigawatt target for 2035 is achievable. Net zero is not about continuing down the same path as before. We must work out how to utilise demand better, treating energy as a service rather than a commodity.

Crucially, we must empower individuals to take their own net zero journey. I meet many people who have put solar panels on their roofs, who have bought electric vehicles – and they have never looked back. With the rising cost of energy, net zero has become far more than just an environmental project. It is also now a question of energy security.


There is a delicate political tightrope when it comes to transition, all of our policies are in transition as well. Many of the existing policy frameworks are not fit for purpose when considering the challenges involved in delivering net zero over the next two and a half decades. The planning system, for example, will need to be changed. Take the new coal mine planned for Cumbria which undermines international UK climate leadership. Had there been a climate compliance test in planning system, it would not have got through. Energy Performance Certificates are also not fit for purpose in terms of encouraging carbon reduction.

So we need to create new frameworks as we go on our journey – but we also need to rely on our existing policy frameworks to maintain the accountability mechanisms in tracking commitments and adherence. It will not do to promise savings ‘tomorrow’ or ‘in 2050’. It is not possible to achieve the goal in 2050 but not making progress towards reducing over half the emissions by 2030. That reality has been set out by the UN, by the IEA and in Catherine McKenna's recent Integrity Matters report. It needs to be emphasised from the top of Government, down through business and into wider society.

Another feature of a long-term mission-based programme is a move away from the project-by-project approach which has been endemic of the UK Government's approach so far. Germany has a 10-year programme for delivering energy efficiency. In contrast, the UK’s initiatives have a stop-start, concertina nature that just ends up costing more in the longer term.

The US Inflation Reduction Act is a $369 billion investment in green technologies. Instead of decrying it, we should work out how to create a new special relationship, working together on some of the really effective global solutions to the net zero challenge. And the economic success for the UK will come in designing global solutions, not just UK based solutions for UK based problems.

The Mission Zero review has been written in a way that has tries to help the Government move forward. It includes a framework of immediate actions that it can take forward before the next general election. The missions then feed in from 2025: we must get the infrastructure (grid capacity, capability, storage issues) in place first before we can deliver on our net zero goals.

Delivering on our 2050 aim means cementing a consensus among the different political parties That was there when the Climate Change Act was signed into law back in 2008, and in 2019 when the target was raised to 100% emissions reductions on 1990 levels. A consensus is needed for the next general election, on taking forward the recommendations of the review.

The next general election will be fundamental to tackling climate change in the UK. It will be the next administration which will be responsible for delivering on the NDC by 2030.

1 www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-net-zero