‘Jenga green policy’ damaging UK’s low-carbon prospects ahead of 5th carbon budget

The UK is at serious risk of missing the requirements set out in the legally-binding fourth carbon budget, unless an "immediate policy gap" is filled, the chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has warned.

Responding to questions at an Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) hearing in Parliament yesterday (1 March), the REA’s Nina Skorupska called for action to address the detrimental state of the nation’s current carbon budget – one which Skorupska believes fails to reflect the ambition of the commitments made by the UK at the Paris climate talks.

“The Government has just revised its assessments of 13GW of solar being deployed by 2020 – I’m afraid that’s going to happen by the end of March,” Skorupska said. “Our members have invested over £1bn in infrastructure for delivering bio-based fuels to meet that 10% renewable energy transport target, and it’s not been helped by the activities of the government to date. It’s languished, it’s fell behind.”

“We need a properly functioning market… the EU ETS has been a quite drastic failure in terms of giving right signals for carbon prices and causing people to change behaviour. It has been the intervention of the government, in a positive way… that has caused behavioural changes.”

The Committee heard evidence of “drastic failures” of the Emissions Trading Scheme which has riled-up high profiles names including Donald Trump and Lord Stern. The Committee listened on as it was revealed that the Conservative Government has shaken up 13 green policies – such as the scrapping of the Zero-Carbon Homes standard, and punitive changes to the feed-in tariff for solar that have shackled the growth of renewable energy.

Jenga policies

Delegates at the hearing were warned that these policies need an urgent and immediate overhaul, set out in the fifth carbon budget, to rectify the unstable green policy landscape.

Also speaking at the hearing was Energy Saving Trust chief executive Phillip Sellwood, who said: “One of the issues that we really have to bear down on before we start to rank and prioritise issues is to accept that you can’t make policy in isolation.

“I think we’ve seen with the disaggregation of renewable policy, that each individual change didn’t seem to be a ‘gamechanger’. It’s a bit like Jenga at the moment – everyone is pulling a brick out of the wall, but no one wants to be the last person to pull the brick because the whole edifice comes crashing down.

“We can’t see policies introduced that affect economics and behaviour in one sector if it is in isolation from what other people are already doing. The policies have to link up.”

The Committee heard that one of the biggest Government misdemeanours was the Government’s disregard for the potential of energy storage in meeting carbon reduction commitments. The Tories have faced heavy backlash over its decision to scrap a £1bn carbon capture and storage competition fund. It has instead favoured the use of natural gas – a decision which was recently branded “very limited” unless carbon capture is re-introduced.

Damage limitation

Low-carbon energy options such as wind, solar and CCS are the cheapest way to meet the UK’s need for more generation in the 2020s, but Government policies have continuously put hurdles across this path.

Despite a volatile policy landscape, low-carbon generation’s share of the electricity supply in the UK reached 43% last year, but this was largely supplemented by nuclear. Late last year, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its recommendations for the UK’s fifth carbon budget, suggesting an emissions reduction target of 57% by 2028 believing it to be the lowest-cost path” to the UK’s legally-binding targets.

Matt Mace

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