In June 2019, Parliament passed an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008, committing the UK to achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions (emissions) by 2050. This means reducing emissions (also known as ‘decarbonisation’) substantially from current levels. Since 2009, in support of the government’s decarbonisation commitments, the UK has set legally binding carbon budgets, which restrict the total amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit over five-year periods. To date the UK has set a series of budgets extending out to 2033–2037.

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The government expects research and innovation to play a crucial part in the UK achieving net zero. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had responsibility for net zero policy until responsibility was transferred to the new Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) on 7 February 2023. BEIS identified that net zero will require “a step change” in the rate of new technologies and processes being developed and deployed into the market and being adopted by businesses and consumers.

The government believes that the development of net zero technologies will give UK businesses a competitive edge in world markets. A government review highlighted analysis by consultants in 2020 that estimated that renewable and low-carbon technologies could support 1.38 million low-carbon jobs by 2050, with as many as 804,000 direct jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030 in the UK.

Scope of the report

This report examines whether the government is set up to deliver value for money from its approach to investment in research and innovation to deliver net zero in the UK. In doing so, and in keeping with our statutory remit, the report does not question the merits of the government’s policy objectives or challenge areas set out in the Framework. The report examines:

  • the effectiveness of mechanisms in place for providing leadership and coordination of net zero research and innovation activities
  • arrangements for delivering net zero research and innovation support and whether this is aligned with the challenge areas set out in the Framework
  • plans for reviewing progress and evaluating impact against the desired outputs and outcomes


BEIS’ creation and publication of the Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework clarified the government’s priorities in pursuit of net zero and helped communicate those priorities to stakeholders outside government. Its development of the Framework brought together departments and funding bodies from across government and has begun to prompt the right questions within government of how to support the innovation that will be needed. There remains, however, a lack of clarity over who is responsible for overseeing end-to-end progress across the innovation system in the priority areas, what success will look like at key milestones, and what government’s risk appetite is in supporting the different priorities within the innovation portfolio.

The recent Delivery Plan, published by DESNZ, has mapped out the estimated £4.2 billion of net zero research and innovation public sector funding to 2025 for the first time. This is a significant achievement and a vital step, but there is more to do. The complexity of the funding routes, many of them pre-dating the creation of the Delivery Plan, will make it harder for DESNZ and the Innovation Delivery Board to track spend, identify gaps or duplication in funding, and assess whether funding is being delivered through the most efficient mechanisms.

The government intends the Framework to cover the full innovation process. Its updated Green Finance Strategy and investment roadmaps provide a high-level overview of how government expects to work with public finance bodies. However, activities aimed at supporting the latter stages of the innovation process, including the take-up of new innovations in the marketplace, have yet to be brought together in the underlying Delivery Plan.

DESNZ should take prompt action to further strengthen its governance and delivery mechanisms, building on the good work done to develop the Framework. Without such action there is a risk that the government will not achieve its carbon and economic objectives, or secure value for money from its £4.2 billion investment.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (19 May 2023)

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