UK dependent on renewables to cut CO2

16th September 2011

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The UK won't meet legally-binding carbon-reduction targets without more effective policies supporting the uptake of renewable energy and encouraging greater energy efficiency, according to the think-tank Cambridge Economics.

In forecasts published today, the researchers predict that not only is the UK unlikely to meet its 2010 target of cutting CO2 emissions by 20% on 1990 levels until 2020, but that it will fail to meet all four carbon budgets, up to 2027.

According to the analysis, emissions will only be cut by 0.5%–1% a year over the coming decade if the government sticks to its current policies, increasing to 1.25% a year after 2020, if plans to decarbonise electricity supply remain on track.

These figures see the UK narrowly missing its first two carbon budget targets in 2012 and 2017, with the gap dramatically increasing for the later target years of 2022 and 2027.

The report predicts that the UK will struggle to reduce traded emissions to the level of the EU ETS caps and that renewable technology will probably only supply 13% of the country’s electricity by 2020, a far cry from the estimated 30-35% market share needed to meet overall EU renewable energy targets.

The report says the failure of the previous government to meet the long-standing 2010 target reveals the “difficulty of making a reality out of rhetoric”.

“The unmistakable lesson from the effect of emissions reduction policies over 1997-2010 is that policies tend to have a lower impact than forecast, and therefore their strength needs to be increased if targets are to be achieved,” concluded professor Paul Ekins, co-editor of the report.

The analysis does not, however, take into account coalition policies, such as the extension of Climate Change Levies, the launch of the Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Initiative, which are considered not yet sufficiently clear to be included in the modelling.

This means, according to Ekins, that the government still has the opportunity to improve on the predictions for the fourth budget, but only if it is prepared to act quickly.

“The time taken for new policies to be worked up, consulted on and implemented is long, and few new policies will be able to be put in place and be effective even for the third budget period (2018-22),” he said.

“The coalition government must be ready to bring forward further policies, especially in the non-EU ETS heating and transport sectors, at the first sign of lower falls in emissions than expected.

“This response will be needed if the required reductions for the fourth carbon budget are to be proof against the kind of policy optimism that has so far been evident in this area.”


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