UK carbon budgets at risk

17th July 2012

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The pace of progress in cutting greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions is currently too slow to meet the UK's carbon budgets, the committee on climate change (CCC) has warned

According to its latest report, the UK’s GHG emissions fell by 7% in 2011, but only 0.8% could be linked directly to implementation of proactive carbon-lowering measures.

The CCC cautioned that underlying progress is only one-quarter of what is needed to meet future carbon budgets, and that the government needs to stop planning and start delivering change.

“Much of last year’s fall in emissions was due to a combination of mild weather, rising fuel prices, falling incomes and transitory factors in power generation,” said David Kennedy, chief executive at the CCC. “As the economy recovers it will be difficult to keep the country on track to meet carbon budgets.”

Commenting on the report, the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, acknowledged that the government faced some very big challenges. “[It] highlights key areas where we need to raise our game to ensure that we meet our ambitious energy and climate change goals,” he said.

The CCC report identifies a lack of investment in renewable and low-carbon energy as a major stumbling block to faster progress in bringing down emissions.

There has been only one-third of the annual investment required in onshore and offshore wind, says the CCC, which also points out that investment prospects for nuclear power remain uncertain and that government plans for carbon capture and storage (CCS) are behind schedule.

The committee advises the government to act urgently to overcome this uncertainty, calling for the proposed electricity market reform (EMR) to include a carbon objective and contracts for four CCS demonstration plants to be signed by the end of 2013 at the latest. It suggests the EMR set a target to achieve carbon intensity of 50gCO2/kWh in 2030 through investment in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies.

The CCC report also warns against a second “dash for gas”, something it says is more likely after the government announced in March that its planned emissions performance standard would allow unabated operation of gas-fired power plants through to 2045.

“A second dash for gas would be a very bad thing … and would increase costs and risks of meeting carbon budgets,” it states.

Meanwhile, the latest data from DECC reveal that renewable sources of energy generated 11% of the UK’s electricity in the first three months of 2012, a 39% increase year-on-year.

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