U.K. Told to Double Scale of Co2 Cuts to Meet Climate Goal

  • Official climate adviser says current policies not sufficient
  • Offshore wind, solar identified as key to reducing emissions

The U.K. government adopted climate targets that require it to double the pace of reducing pollution from fossil fuels by 2032, indicating the next government will have to move beyond widespread adoption of renewables to meet the target.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd on Thursday endorsed a recommendation for the U.K. to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 57 percent between 2028 and 2032. The government’s official climate adviser said current policies only deliver about 53 percent of the reductions needed, and the vote to leave the European Union will further complicate environmental policies.

The recommendation in an annual progress report by the Committee on Climate Change indicates the tough decisions Prime Minister David Cameron’s successor faces. Britain already has cut emissions 38 percent from the 1990 baseline used in the calculations, leaving environmental groups seeking deeper cuts in greenhouse gases increasingly at odds with industry and consumers who are demanding cheaper power. The vote on the EU adds another dimension.

“Leaving the EU will require the reassessment of some existing and proposed policies but does not change the need for the U.K. to play its role in reducing emissions,” said John Gummer, the chairman of the committee, who is also known as Lord Deben since his elevation to the upper chamber of Parliament.

Source: Committee on Climate Change. Dotted line indicates target. Green and yellow bars show policies in place now.

The committee was established by the government to advise ministers on policy and will produce a detailed analysis on the impact of the vote to leave the EU in the autumn. That decision may lead to the scrapping or weakening of some Brussels-led green policies, such as new car emissions standards, the EU Emissions Trading System and laws on waste and harmful fluorinated gases, the committee said.

The energy department is due to lay out a detailed plan by the end of this year on how the government will achieve the goal. Rudd’s position is uncertain since Cameron announced plans to resign following the Brexit vote.

Yet the government may have left the door open to row back on its new target, as it didn’t pass the fifth carbon budget into law by statutory instrument, said Barry Gardiner, energy spokesman for the Labour Party, in a phone interview.

"What is the signal sent to the investment community that we don’t have that statutory undergirding to that carbon budget?” he asked.

The U.K. currently spews about 500 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, mainly from power plants, cars and industry. The report said ministers must find another 100 million tons of savings by the end of the next decade to meet their target of emissions of around 300 million tons a year.

Some of the current policies that get the government half way to its goals are being unwound. Cameron has blocked new onshore wind farms from receiving government subsidy, which the committee said is at odds with the overall climate target since wind is currently the cheapest form of low-carbon electricity generation. 

The government currently is working to spur nuclear power and offshore wind, two of the most expensive technologies. It’s ratcheting back on wind and solar projects in rural areas that some voters see as a blight on the countryside.

The committee called for new policies to decarbonize heating and curb energy waste from buildings. Rates of installing insulation in homes has fallen by 60 percent to 90 percent since 2008 to 2012, the report said.

The U.K. also “urgently” needs a new approach to develop carbon capture and storage technology, after the government scrapped funding of 1 billion pounds ($1.35 billion) for a competition to spur the technology in November.

“The next Conservative leader must take care not to appear two-faced by passing tough climate targets and committing to international agreements while also seeking to expand a major source of climate emissions in U.K.” said John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, in an e-mailed statement.

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