Chancellor takes the high carbon road
Is the government about to take a series of high carbon decisions that will replace renewables with fossil fuels? Decisions are imminent on Cuadrilla’s fracking appeal, launched today, and Heathrow’s third runway. Meanwhile, the Chancellor is unceremoniously dumping green policies, while assuring Helen Goodman MP on the Treasury Select Committee that he would honour the UK’s climate change commitments. But as the Committee points out, he is overseeing a growing casualty list: cutting renewable energy subsidies, new taxes on green vehicles, a £3.9 billion levy on renewable energy, ending the zero carbon homes commitments and home insulation support.
Plans for Heathrow expansion will be scrutinsed in a new inquiry by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee Climate – the first time that climate change, noise and other environmental impacts of the Airports Commission’s report on a third runway will have been separately considered.
By 2050, an expanded Heathrow could be responsible for over half of the UK’s CO2 emissions.
The Aviation Commission’s report acknowledges that the UK Climate Change Act 2008 sets a legally binding target to reduce overall UK emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. “Aviation will need to play its part. The Committee on Climate Change has specified a planning assumption for the sector that requires gross carbon dioxide emissions from aviation of no more than 37.5 million tonnes of CO2 by mid century.”
However, an expanded Heathrow “would still be producing a high proportion, in fact a majority, of total UK carbon emissions from aviation: in 2050 the carbon emissions from departing flights at Heathrow would represent 54.6% of the UK total,” the business and sustainability report says (para 16.8).
UK carbon emissions from aviation have almost doubled since 1990:
Meanwhile, Shale gas developer Cuadrilla says it will appeal against Lancashire council’s decision to refuse planning for Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road fracking sites, Lancashire.
Ministers described the council’s decision as “disappointing,” even though it fits with the government’s apparent commitment to devolving power. Earlier this week, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd asserted that fracking projects should continue to be pursued as shale gas was “effectively a low-carbon fuel.”
Earlier this year the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into shale gas fracking said that, “Extensive production of unconventional gas through fracking is inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Climate Change Act and its carbon budgets regime, which encompasses our contribution to efforts to keep global temperature rise below two degrees.”
Whether shale gas is “part of the answer to climate change”, depends on the key question: “What is it going to substitute for? Is it going to substitute for coal or is it going to substitute for renewables?
The EAC concluded: If it replaces coal this might be regarded as a good thing, although it depends on what assumptions you make about fugitive methane emissions. “On the other hand, if it starts to replace renewables that is bad news.”
As with Heathrow expansion so with shale gas: continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed our scope for fossil fuel energy.
On shale gas, the EAC concluded that, “A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached in the 2020s and beyond, and the international credibility of the UK in tackling climate change being critically weakened.”