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Regulators must be given powers to tackle climate change

The UK will fail to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if regulators aren't given new powers to ensure utility companies invest in sustainable infrastructure, according to a report from the National Infrastructure Commission.

Chair Sir John Armitt said the UK’s regulatory system must adapt to meet the demands of the future and urged ministers to take action to strengthen it.

The report looks at all aspects of the regulation of energy, telecoms and water services.

It considers the need for extensive strategic investment in each of the sectors, to reduce emissions, improve digital connectivity and build resilience as floods and drought become more likely – and the role of regulation in delivering it.

The Commission concludes that while the current model has mostly achieved what it was set up to do, it has created a culture of short-termism.

Among its recommendations is a proposal for new duties for the regulators – Ofgem, Ofcom and Ofwat – to promote the achievement of net-zero and improve the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure.

The Commission also recommends that government should provide regulators with a clear strategic focus on the country’s infrastructure priorities for the long term, to guide regulation. 

This shift will be essential to enable the delivery of major new projects to mitigate climate change. In coming years, this will include moving towards renewable technologies for generating electricity, building a nationwide charging network for electric vehicles and finding a clean alternative to natural gas for heating homes.

At the same time, regulators must use the price and market controls at their disposal to balance the needs of consumers and investors and ensure the market operates fairly.

Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said: “The government has committed the UK to net zero by 2050, but if regulators aren’t equipped with a new duty to specifically reach this target, then it is simply unattainable. 

“The regulatory system must adapt to meet the demands of the future – and the great challenge we face to bring down emissions and build resilience against increasingly frequent extreme weather.

“If ministers are serious about a low-carbon revolution, they must act quickly and decisively to modernise regulation.”

National Infrastructure Commissioner, Julia Prescot, said: “Our utilities require transformation across the board in coming decades – to bring down emissions, safeguard our water supply and improve digital connectivity up and down the country. That’s going to require unprecedented levels of investment.

“Well-balanced regulation would give infrastructure providers long-term certainty, empowering them to invest in innovative and creative solutions.”

The Commission recommends that:

  • Ofcom, Ofgem and Ofwat should have new duties to promote the achievement of net zero by 2050 and improve resilience.
  • The government should set out a long-term strategic vision for each of the regulated sectors, through strategic policy statements, within the first year of each Parliament, to support lasting plans and stable funding.
  • The UK Regulators Network should be given a stronger leadership role through the appointment of an independent chair to promote collaboration and coordination, and ensure markets continue to deliver for consumers.
  • Most major strategic investments should be opened to competition to support innovation, rather than relying on incumbents or government to have the best ideas.
  • Regulators should be able to prevent companies from engaging in price discrimination that does not provide an overall benefit to consumers.

The full report can be accessed here.

Author: Alec Peachey,
Topic: Policy & Regulation , Sustainability & social value
Tags: regulation , ofwat , water , infrastructure , energy

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