Heat and transport: UK will miss low-carbon targets ‘without major improvements’

The UK will miss crucial 2020 renewable heat and transport targets and significantly damage its global reputation as a climate leader unless "major policy improvements" are rapidly enforced, a major new report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) has concluded.

The Committee of MPs reviewed expert advice from across the public and private sectors for the report, discovering that the UK is not even halfway towards achieving the target of 12% of energy needs for heat generation coming from renewable sources, while the proportion of renewable energy used in transport has infact fallen, from 4.9% to 4.2% over the past year.

ECC chair Angus MacNeil MP said: “The experts we spoke to were clear: the UK will miss its 2020 renewable energy targets without major policy improvements. Failing to meet these would damage the UK’s reputation for climate change leadership. The Government must take urgent action on heat and transport to renew its efforts on decarbonisation.”

MacNeil recently told edie that the UK faces an uphill battle to reach its 2020 renewable targets across both these sectors, claiming that the transport targets in particular have been regarded as the “low-hanging fruit” in the Department for Transport (DfT).

Low-carbon future

The ECC’s report identifies a number of recommendations to enable the Government to achieve targets, such as greater cooperation between departments, strengthened support for the deployment of electric vehicles, a tiered system of Vehicle Excise Duty, and the roll-out of the ‘E10’ fuel, composed of 90% petrol and 10% bioethanol.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is earmarked for reform to alter the “unsatisfactory” prioritisation of heat pumps over biomass and reflect the growing role of biomethane for the deployment of low-carbon heat and decarbonisation of heavy goods vehicles.

The Committee recommends that the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) level is raised “without delay” to help boost the proportion of renewable energy required to meet the 10% target in transport. Bioenergy has a clear role in decarbonising heat, the report contends, as “it is clear that the Government cannot rely on complete heat electrification”.

The ECC raises concerns that the closure of DECC could potentially “bury” energy and climate change issues by conflicting concerns, while leaving the European Union (EU) renders the status of the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets uncertain.

“We agreed our 2020 renewable energy targets as part of the EU but they still have many merits, even as the UK Government prepares for Brexit,” MacNeil added. “If the UK reneges on these targets, it will undermine confidence in the Government’s commitment to clean energy and the climate targets agreed in Paris.

“Progress has been slow, but this must be taken as a call to action, not an excuse for backtrack.”

‘No-regrets policy’

Echoing a recent Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report on transport, the ECC warns that if the UK misses out on its 2020 commitments, it will undermine confidence in the Government’s commitment to its legally binding 2050 targets.

The growing evidence of heat and transport as problem areas has led green business leaders to agree that it will be crucial for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to address these two issues with an ambitious, long-term plan of investment.

Commenting on today’s report, ECIU’s executive director Richard Black said: “As the Committee says, areas like heat and transport are lagging behind, so the sooner we see concrete proposals to address these, the better.”

One of the witnesses to provide evidence for the ECC report was not-for-profit trade group the Renewable Energy Association (REA). The REA’s chief executive Nina Skorupska said: “Meeting our 2020 targets is a no-regrets policy, not only because we need new investment in our energy supply but because supporting renewable heat and transport now will be critical to meeting our carbon budgets in the 2020’s.

“In the past week, the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, formally committed to long-term decarbonisation by signing the Paris Climate Agreement. The scale of low-carbon investment that we can expect in the coming decades is in the trillions of dollars globally. It is therefore critical, as this report highlights, that renewables and decarbonisation are at the heart of the Government’s future Industrial Strategy.”

George Ogleby

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