Government must prioritise low-carbon heat and transport, says Committee on Climate Change

On the same day that Ministers accepted the proposals of the ambitious Fifth Carbon Budget, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has called for stronger Government action in the areas of heating, transport and low-carbon generation in its latest progress report.

The CCC’s 2016 Progress Report recommends that policy gaps in each of the aforementioned areas must be addressed in order for the UK to meet the newly-agreed-upon carbon reduction target of limiting annual emissions to 57% below 1990 levels by the year 2032.

Within the report, the power sector is highlighted as the main contributor to a 4.5% fall in emissions since 2012, with more progress across the rest of the economy required to meet the recommended Carbon Budget proposals.

In the context of the Paris Agreement and the recent referendum result to leave the European Union (EU), CCC chairman Lord Deben stated that an alteration of the policy landscape requires serious consideration.

Lord Deben said: “The UK’s targets to reduce emissions – enshrined in legislated carbon budgets and the 2050 target – derive from UK legislation. We will still need to meet these targets. We will still need to find ways to reduce emissions.

“But some of our options for doing so may now be different. At this stage it is too early to say how the policy landscape will need to adapt, but we clearly need to come back to consider this further.”

Policy recommendations

Specifically, the Progress Report calls for clear and consistent policies in the heating sector that are “attractive” to landlords and overcome “behavioural barriers”. According to the CCC, progress in improving the energy efficiency of buildings has stalled since 2012, with annual rates of cavity wall and loft insulation in 2013-2015 60% and 90% down respectively on annual rates in 2008-2012. Progress in in new buildings and those off the gas grid should be prioritised, the report claims.

In terms of low-carbon transport, the CCC recommends that efficiency measures for new vehicles are extended through the 2020s, with stretching standards for vehicle CO2 emissions based on real-world driving, tested by independent authorities. Data illustrates that greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are gradually increasing, while the majority of other sectors of the economy have fallen. The CCC states that the extended standards should require an increasing share of electric vehicles, supported by action to develop the charging infrastructure.

Effective policy must also be reignited to support mature renewable electricity generation in onshore wind and solar through Contracts for Difference (CfD) allocated by competitive auctions, the report claims. Since the first CfD action which occurred last February, no further auctions have taken place while none are currently officially planned. The CCC calls for Government to provide a “route to market” for the cheapest low-carbon generation technologies by defining the price at which it would consider low-carbon generation to be subsidy-free.

‘Growth and prosperity’

Later in the report, the CCC urges the Government to adopt a strategic approach which can support commercialisation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at a lower overall cost to the consumer and taxpayers. Currently, there is no strategy for the development of CCS following the controversial cancellation of the CCS Competition in November 2015. The report suggests that a new approach should have separate support for the capture plants and for the infrastructure for transporting and storing CO2, reflecting their different technical and economic characteristics.

Commenting on the report, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment chair Lord Stern said: “The Committee has warned today that to meet our current targets, the UK will need to take much stronger action to cut emissions, particularly outside the power sector. There should be a special focus on making our cities less polluted and congested, more efficient, less wasteful, lower carbon and more climate-resilient.

“For instance, we can and should cut transport emissions by accelerating the development of zero-emissions vehicles, improving public transport, and exploring the potential for self-drive cars. This will make UK’s cities more attractive places to work and live, and we will be able to attract the innovative and creative talent that is crucial to increasing growth and prosperity.”

‘Train will hit the buffers’

The specific areas of heat and transport addressed in the report have been widely reported as sectors which require drastic domestic and international action to accelerate the low-carbon transition. The cross-party parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) recently claimed that Britain’s carbon plan must provide certainty across the heat and transport sectors, following an enquiry into the Government’s apparent lack of progress on its self-imposed targets for meeting demands from renewable energy sources in these industries.

Moreover, The European Environment Agency (EEA) has reported that transport has now become the single biggest emitter of GHG emissions in Europe, with emissions from all transport modes increasing by 0.6% to 1,153 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents in the last year.

Commenting on today’s report, Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) director Richard Black said: “Over the last couple of years Britain has made rapid progress on reducing carbon emissions, mainly by closing coal-fired power stations and building renewables – a 13% emissions cut in three years, while growing the economy, is extraordinary.

“However, this progress resulted from policies put in place four or five years beforehand; policies produce investment and investment gets things built, but there’s always a period of years between the beginning and end of that chain.

“The main message from the CCC is that the train is about to hit the buffers, because current policies aren’t going to generate the investment needed to maintain progress. Just weeks after signing the Paris Agreement, David Cameron’s Government is about to finalise its target for cutting UK emissions by 2030 – but his successor will need to put new policies in place if the target is to be met.”

George Ogleby

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