Next step towards low-carbon UK requires 57% emissions reduction by 2030
As the Prime Minister heads off to Paris for the UN talks on climate change, the government’s independent advisers say that “new energy policies” are required to meet the UK’s carbon emissions targets. By the government’s own admission, the UK is 10% over its fourth carbon budget (4CB on our graph). So new low-cost policies are required: more investment in energy efficiency in homes and offices; support for “key emerging options such as carbon capture and storage;” and increased take up of electric and other low emission vehicles.
But as of yesterday, in a seemingly parallel world, the Chancellor cut the £1bn funding for carbon capture and storage, cut £700m from the renewable heat incentive scheme (eg installing solar water heater or biomass boilers); and announced a new domestic energy efficiency programmes 78% smaller than under the last parliament. In his July 2015 Budget, the Chancellor reversed the polluter pays principle, so that very few low emissions vehicles are now exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty, boosting Treasury revenues by £3 billion.
On behalf of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben said today that looking ahead to the 2030s, there was literally no elbow room: “We have to provide the least cost pathways to reach our targets. We cant leave the difficult decisions to later generations. Each generation must play its part. Nothing we propose for action now cant be achieved. If the government doesn’t agree with the committee’s recommendations, it must deliver an alternative to reach the same objective.”
In future scenarios, by 2030:
- One in seven households and half of commercial premises should be serviced by low carbon heat – ie switch from gas fired heating.
- 60% of new car sales should be electric vehicles or hybrids, compared with about one per cent of car sales today.
- Our power supplies should rely almost exclusively on low carbon or renewable electricity, averaging 100 grammes of carbon per kilowatt hour, compared with about 500 grammes today.
- Industry must invest heavily in energy efficiency, new low carbon processes, and develop CCS: “it was hard to find an alternative to CCS”, Lord Deben said.
By 2032, the end of the fifth of the UK’s five-year carbon budget periods (see blue column on graph) the UK must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 57% on 1990 levels:
- in 1990, the UK discharged over 800 million tonnes of CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere.
- In 2014, this had been cut by about 2% a year, to 520 million tonnes.
- By 2032, we need to be further down the slope at around 300 million tonnes a year.
Many of those attending today’s briefing challenged the notion that the Chancellor’s statement and other cuts to green policies since the May 2015 election were consistent with our national climate change commitments, and international obligations:
- Gas “would have to be off the grid within 20 years”, yet the Chancellor had announced a new £1bn support for shale gas fracking.
- Given recent cuts to solar, onshore wind and CCS, “How can anyone take the government’s policy proposals seriously if it continues to move the goalposts?
- Should we find a way to hypothecate funds for low carbon technology investment?
There were positive stories to tell, as the rapid growth in the UK’s offshore wind industry had shown, the one million UK homes with rooftop solar panels, or rapid advances in battery storage technology. But as one commentator asked the CCC panel: Would the committee raise the whole vexed issue of “policy certainty” with the government?