The UK's role in carbon reduction
This Monday (30 November 2015) saw the start of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris. Known as COP21, the conference has long been seen as the make or break for securing global, legally binding agreements on CO2 emission reduction.
The make or break aspect primarily relates to this decade being the last line drawn on curbing carbon emissions before the planet warms beyond the 2C degree mark. This is often cited as the point of no return – beyond which, we will see major irreversible natural and human ecosystem changes; most of which are negative to the way we and other species exist.
The stakes are high. The UK is an international leader in delivering on the transition away from high-carbon living.
Our previous commitments to Kyoto and Europe have seen us deliver a successful renewable energy industry and significant innovation in the way we plan and deliver our national growth when compared to our European neighbours.
Our existing commitments mean the UK should be ahead of the pack when structuring and agreeing to commitments – so COP21 should, in theory, be an international podium for us to wave our green flag.
The low-carbon transition has created a dilemma for all governments tackling this issue, in guaranteeing security of supply at an affordable price that also meets our climate obligations.
Still, it came as a bit of a shock last week when the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced a suite of interventions to our existing low-carbon strategy that appears to replace our green flag with a white one (or perhaps even brown!)
On top of the likely removal of fiscal support for renewable energy, such as the renewable heat incentive (to decarbonise our heat supplies), we saw:
- Withdrawal for support on carbon capture and storage
- The exemption of steel and chemical manufacture on climate change taxes
- A move to natural gas power generation strategy largely reliant on tapping into UK shale gas and buying from European neighbours, such as Norway and Russia.
Does this major shift in trajectory therefore put the UK on the back foot when leading the battle on unabated carbon emissions?
It can’t help, is the short answer.
It will be extremely interesting to see the British government’s position and response to a legal binding commitment to cut CO2 emissions in light of a future energy strategy that has no fiscal support for renewables and commits to building a new fleet of gas power stations with no carbon abatement measures.
Over the next week, we will begin to understanding the UK Government stance of internationally binding commitments and their accountability on decarbonisation over cheap energy and energy security. The outcomes of this will affect all of us, whether individually – on the price of energy – or nationally, on how the country grows.
If we do become accountable, we are likely to see the rise of new policy on zero energy homes, support for renewables and taxation on environmental poor buildings which will affect how we plan and deliver development and infrastructure projects. This position will become clearer next week, and we will be watching developments closely.