Brexit, Paris and low-carbon heat: 10 green policy messages for the UK Government

As the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) releases three new reports on the UK meeting its climate commitments, edie rounds up the key green policy calls made by the Committee surrounding low-carbon heat, Brexit and the Paris Agreement.

The reports, released by the CCC today (13 October), address three key questions: How can the UK Government tackle the issue of reducing emissions from heating the UK’s buildings in order to meet the Fourth and Fifth Carbon Budgets? How might the Paris Agreement impact the UK’s climate targets and strategy? And how might Brexit affect carbon budgets?

— CCC reports: Industry reaction —

They have been largely welcomed by green groups and environmental campaigners alike, with the majority agreeing that urgent action is needed on delivering more low-carbon heat, and that other green policies must be preserved or strengthened throughout the Brexit process.

The CCC’s Paris Agreement report has, however, divided opinion. The Committee is urging the UK Government not to set more ambitious national emissions targets now, despite the Agreement set to be officially ratified next month. Friends of the Earth said this was “very disappointing”, adding that the CCC’s advice should be “based on the scientific evidence, not what it feels politically expedient”.

CCC reports: 10 green policy messages for the UK Government

With so many political calls to action made by these three different but interlinked reports, edie has rounded up the 10 key points made by the CCC.(All of the below points can be found in the three reports on Brexit, low-carbon heat and the Paris Agreement.)

1) The UK’s climate goals have not changed

A very basic point to start off, but an important one nonetheless, considering the ongoing uncertainty cuased by Brexit. The CCC stresses that the UK’s 2050 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the legislated carbon budgets – including the Fifth Carbon Budget set in July – remain appropriate as part of a UK contribution to global efforts to tackle climate change, including the Paris Agreement.

The actions required to meet the Fifth Carbon Budget remain as expected when the Committee proposed the budget last November.

2) Existing green commitments need strong new policies, irrespective of Brexit

The Fifth Carbon Budget requires a reduction in emissions of around a third from 2015 to 2030 (a 57% reduction relative to 1990). The CCC notes that current policies, including those agreed to by the UK at the EU level, would at best deliver about half the required emissions reduction.

The Government has recognised this policy gap and will set out its plans for meeting carbon budgets in the coming months. That plan, the CCC says, should set out expected contributions of different sectors and the key policies needed to achieve them. “The Government’s plan to close the policy gap must be able to meet the UK’s Carbon Budgets, whatever the circumstances as the UK leaves the EU”, the Brexit report states.

3) Some green policies set by the EU should be preserved and strengthened

With the UK playing a key part in developing global mechanisms to help control emissions throughout multiple sectors, these groundwork EU policies should be strengthened on the road to the 2030 Paris targets, according to the CCC.

The Committee suggests that, if these mechanisms in place were to do this, the UK could meet 55% of its emission reduction targets through these policies alone. When particular mechanisms are shown to be effective – such as product and efficiency standards, and fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas) regulation – the UK should either remain part of these global schemes or replicate them at a UK level.


4) Brexit is also an opportunity to improve some EU green policy approaches

Whilst EU environmental policy has broadly been seen as a positive for Britain, there are some areas that can be improved once the UK leaves the bloc, according to the CCC. 

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), for example, does not directly target greenhouse gas emissions reduction in agriculture. A UK-based policy framework should therefore link farming support more closely to actions that would reduce emissions,the CCC states. 

Moreover, some policy goals could more closely reflect the need to reduce emissions. The CCC report goes on to cite the example of ensuring heat policy focuses more generally on low-carbon heat, rather than solely renewable heat – also to include use of waste heat and hydrogen produced using carbon capture and storage.

The CCC also notes that, after leaving the EU, the UK may need to submit a national pledge of effort to the UN climate process, which could be based on legislated carbon budgets. Meeting the UK’s existing targets will be a positive contribution to global climate action, the Committee states.

5) The role of hydrogen for buildings on the gas grid should be set out in the next Parliament

The Government will need to make a set of decisions in the next Parliament and beyond on the best strategy for decarbonising buildings on the gas grid, according to the CCC’s low-carbon heat report. 

Specifically, the Committee calls on policymakers to decide on whether there is a role for hydrogen supplied through existing gas networks (extending the useful life of the gas grid infrastructure) alongside other technologies such as heat pumps.

6) Action is required now to reduce emissions and prepare for future decisions

Certain areas of green policy need to be significantly strengthened now to increase the implementation of low-carbon measures in the next decade, the CCC says. 

New homes can and should be built to be highly energy efficient and designed for lowcarbon heating systems; and energy efficiency should be improved across the existing building stock. This will help reduce emissions and energy bills, and help to tackle fuel poverty and make buildings more suitable for low-carbon heating in future.

The CCC goes onto state that the deployment of low-carbon heat cannot wait until the 2030s. ‘Low-regret’ opportunities exist for heat pumps to be installed in homes that are off the gas grid, according to the report. “These opportunities can be taken within funding that has already been agreed, provided policy measures are well-targeted and we learn the lessons from previous UK and international experience”.  

7) The forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan must incorporate immediate action

A simple point: the Government’s plan for meeting the Fourth and Fifth Carbon Budgets should set clear goals for improving efficiency and rolling out low-carbon heating. The plan, according to the CCC, should set a timetable of next steps for policy development and ensure that informed decisions can be made next Parliament about the role of hydrogen in heating.

In its low-carbon heating report, the CCC calls for a stable framework and direction of travel; a joined-up approach to energy efficiency and low-carbon heat that works across the building stock; simple, highly-visible information and certification alongside installer training; a well-timed offer to households and SMEs that is aligned to ‘trigger points’ when refurbishment is least disruptive; and consistent price signals that clearly encourage affordable, low-carbon choices.

8) We should NOT set new UK emissions targets for the Paris Agreement now

Arguably the most controversial point in all three reports. The CCC notes that the UK already has stretching targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving those targets, the Committee says, will be a positive contribution to global climate action.

In line with the Paris Agreement, the Government has indicated it intends at some point to set a UK target for reducing domestic emissions to net zero. In its Paris Agreement report, the CCC concludes it is too early to do so now, but setting such a target should be kept under review. The five-yearly cycle of pledges and reviews created by the Paris Agreement provides regular opportunities to consider increasing UK ambition, the Committee says.

9) … Instead, we should pursue existing UK commitments and maintain flexibility to go further

The most important contribution that the UK Government can make now to the Paris Agreement is publishing a robust plan to meet the UK carbon budgets and delivering policies in line with the plan, the CCC says. Meeting the carbon budgets will require economy-wide improvements to efficiency, decarbonisation of electricity and scaling up of markets for zero-emission vehicles and heating.

Current policies, at best, will deliver about half the required reduction in emissions, the CCC’s Paris Agreement report claims. Acting with urgency to close this policy gap will reduce long-term costs and keep open options for the future. If all measures deliver fully and emissions are reduced further, the CCC believes this would help support the aim in the Paris Agreement of pursuing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C. 

10) Greenhouse gas removal options (such as CCS) will be required alongide decarbonisation efforts

Even with full deployment of known low-carbon measures, some UK emissions will remain – especially from aviation, agriculture and parts of industry. The CCC states that greenhouse gas removal options – such as afforestation, carbon-storing materials, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and direct air capture and storage – will be required alongside widespread decarbonisation in order to reach net zero emissions.

A strategy for deployment at scale by 2050 should start now, the CCC says, given the timescales inherent in bringing new technologies to market. In its low-carbon heat report, the CCC reiterates that a specific strategy for CCS deployment “remains an urgent priority”. 


Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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