UK ‘can't rely on power sector’ to meet emissions targets, warns CCC

The UK cannot rely on the power sector to meet its emissions reduction targets, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said.

The warning came as the government confirmed the fifth carbon budget for 2028 to 2032, accepting the CCC’s recommendation that emissions be reduced by an average of 57 per cent on 1990 levels over the period.

In an annual progress report to parliament the CCC said: “Whilst emissions have fallen by an average of 4.5 per cent a year since 2012, this has been almost entirely due to progress in the power sector, particularly reduced use of coal as government policies have driven an expansion of renewable generation.”

It said the complete replacement of coal would get Britain less than half way towards the 2 to 3 per cent annual reduction in emissions needed by 2030.

By comparison there has been “almost no progress in the rest of the economy”. Emissions outside of the power sector have fallen by just 1 per cent a year since 2012.

Emissions from different sources since 2005

Source: Committee on Climate Change

The CCC called for “stronger low-carbon policies” in the government’s emissions reduction plan which sets out how carbon budgets will be met. It highlighted uncertainty over future climate policy as a major concern and said it is “holding back investment and increasing costs”, particularly in the wake of last week’s vote to leave the European Union.

The past year

The committee said some progress has been made on its recommendations in last year’s report. Funding for offshore wind has been extended to 2026; to 2020/21 for renewable heat and to 2018 for electric vehicles.

However there have been “backward steps” in other areas. The government cancelled a £1 billion commercialisation competition for carbon capture in storage in November; reduced funding for energy efficiency measures; and scrapped the zero carbon homes standard.

Movement has stalled elsewhere. There is no action plan for low-carbon heat or energy efficiency.  There has also been no indication whether mature ‘pot 1’ technologies, such as onshore wind, will be able to bid in the three contracts for difference auctions planned for the current parliament.

Projected emissions:

Source: Committee on Climate Change

The way ahead

The CCC set out several further recommendations. It called for a “strategic approach” to the development of CCS, saying the technology is of “critical importance” to the UK’s efforts to decarbonise. It said support for capture plants and transport and storage infrastructure should be separated to reflect their differing technical and economic characteristics.

The government should provide a “route to market” for mature low-carbon technologies, for example by setting a “subsidy-free” price for the contracts for difference scheme and then running an auction to find projects which can be built with a lower strike price.  The committee also called for progress on heating as well as transport policy beyond 2020.

The government has committed to publishing an updated emissions reduction plan by the end of this year, showing what measures will be put in place in order to stick to the agreed carbon budgets.

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