UK government's Carbon Plan focuses attention on energy efficiency

The UK government’s Carbon Plan, published yesterday, outlines a path for the reduction of emissions by 80% by 2050 and the saving of billions through energy efficiency.

The Carbon Plan sets out the government’s plans for reducing emissions in line with its four carbon budgets covering the period between now and 2050.

The latest update to the plans details, department by department, the government’s action plan over the next five years on climate change both at home and overseas.

According to the Plan, the UK has already cut its emissions by over 25% on 1990 levels and should easily exceed the 34% target set by the Climate Change Act.

The government also says that there will be no additional cost implications for meeting the fourth carbon budget of a 50% cut in emissions by the mid-2020s.

Over the next ten years, the UK must complete the cost-effective measures started in the previous decade, particularly focusing on improving energy efficiency.

Following that, the UK will need to focus on a mass rollout of technologies – which are not yet set in stone. The government says it will support the development of a “portfolio of technologies” for each sector rather than “picking winners” at this stage.

However, those technologies need to include ways of making buildings – particularly the heating of them – lower carbon, reducing emissions from transport and new low carbon generating capacity, including 3-5 nuclear reactors of the type planned for Hinkley Point, 3-5 times more renewable energy and carbon capture and carbon capture and storage on up to 10 GW of fossil fuel plant.

The Plan puts off, until 2030 and beyond, dealing with ‘hard-to-treat’ sectors like industry, shipping and agriculture. Options such as carbon capture and storage, bioenergy or low-carbon electricity in industrial processes and efficient agricultural practices will be tested during the 2020s, says the government, ahead of rollout.

In his statement on the Plan, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said that the Plan should send a clear signal to negotiators at the United Nations climate summit in Durban that the UK is “walking the walk” to live up to its promise to show climate leadership.

“Every bit of progress we make is one more step away from import dependency, away from price volatility and from the emissions that threaten our way of life,” added Huhne.

He also moved to reassure the public and business sector that the Carbon Plan would gradually rebalance the UK’s economy away from carbon and could even deliver a net benefit of £1 billion… although costs could reach around £20 billion.

WWF-UK warns that time is running out for the world to prevent the worst effects of climate change and that the UK must move to unconditionally adopt its proposed Fourth Carbon Budget.

“Denmark, the next country to take up the EU presidency, has just unilaterally increased its emission reduction ambitions up to 40% by 2020 to maximise its chances of prospering in the green economy – the UK would do well to follow their example,” says head of energy policy at WWF-UK Nick Molho.

“Failing to clearly endorse [the Fourth Carbon Budget] now will not only slow down urgent action on addressing climate change, it will also seriously undermine investment certainty in the UK’s low-carbon sector and result in the UK missing out on the opportunity of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the low-carbon sector,” he warns.

The CBI welcomes the Carbon Plan’s emphasis on energy efficiency but echoes WWF’s comments that it needs to be backed up by consistent government policy.

“The Government’s revised plan gives investors a clearer picture of how we will transition to a low-carbon economy, which is welcome. We now need this to be backed by consistent, long-term policies, avoiding any sudden changes of direction which put investors off,” says Matthew Brown of the CBI.

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UK Chancellor’s autumn statement shows no sign of green shoots (30-Nov)
Investment and pension funds called on to back UK offshore wind (29-Nov)
UK government gives flagship Green Deal £200 million boost (25-Nov)

02 December 2011