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Can UK lead the world on reducing climate change?


David Hopwood

THE UK is to put in place the most ambitious targets on greenhouse gas reduction of any developed country, with the Government saying it will halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2025.

Agreeing the targets took weeks of wrangling between ministers and the treasury, but energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne finally announced to Parliament that the “carbon budget” – a 50% emissions cut averaged across the years 2023 to 2027, compared with 1990 levels – will become law.

It is still unclear exactly how the announcement will affect certain sectors of the renewable energy industry like solar and bioenergy, as the proposal – in line with advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – concentrates on offshore wind and marine as more viable sources of renewable energy. Not to mention nuclear, which it strongly favours.

In addition, some argue that the report the legislation will be based on takes too narrow a view of renewables, simply discussing the climate change perspective and ignoring other benefits that renewable energy brings with it.

According to Gaynor Hartnell, CEO of the UK's Renewable Energy Association, “renewable energy is about far more than de-carbonisation, and the report barely touches on the other things that renewables offer. The CCC, in keeping with its remit, is taking a narrow climate change perspective so there is little mention of energy security; diversification; employment creation; synergies with municipal and commercial waste management; or the economic benefits to the UK from manufacturing. Carbon can easily become the proxy for why we're doing renewables – and viewed through that lens alone, you just don't get the full picture. All things being equal – and the costs are not far off that – renewables should come out more favourably than the alternatives. With renewables, you will never have to worry about fuel sources or sites for waste disposal running out. Plus in many cases the fuel will deliver itself to the power station, come what may!”

However, she admitted that she supported the Government's “bold” carbon decision: “The UK needs more manufacturing – green jobs making renewable energy equipment – as this is the growth industry of the future. Government must send a clear message it is determined to meet the renewables targets, and for that we need some stability in order to build investor confidence.”

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s announcement sets a fourth carbon budget of 1950 Mt CO2e for the period that will span from 2023 to 2027, putting the UK on course to cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050. According to the DECC, the carbon budget will place the British economy at the leading edge of a new global industrial transformation, and ensure low carbon energy security and de-carbonisation is achieved “at least cost to the consumer”.

The package announced also includes measures to minimise costs of the low-carbon transition to industries exposed to international competition.

  • In line with the Coalition Agreement, the UK Government says it will also continue to argue for an EU move to a 30% target for 2020, and ambitious action in the 2020s. It pledges to review progress in EU climate negotiations in early 2014. “If at that point our domestic commitments place us on a different emissions trajectory than the EU Emissions Trading System trajectory agreed by the EU, we will, as appropriate, revise up our budget to align it with the actual EU trajectory”, DECC said;
  • Before the end of the year DECC says it will also announce a package of measures to “reduce the impact of government policy on the cost of electricity for energy intensive industries, and to help them adjust to the low-carbon industrial transformation”.

About:

David Hopwood is the editor of Renewable Energy Focus.


Renewable Energy Focus, May/June 2011.

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