Report: UK among nations leading the world's low-carbon transition

When it comes to implementing policies and fostering corporate leadership ambitions which help reduce emissions and mitigate the negative effects of climate change, the UK has adopted a leadership position that is second only to Denmark.

Drax Group, which commissioned the research, recently began its six-month CCS pilot scheme in Yorkshire (pictured)

Drax Group, which commissioned the research, recently began its six-month CCS pilot scheme in Yorkshire (pictured)

That is the key conclusion of new research from Imperial College London (ICL), which reveals that the UK’s phase-out of coal power has happened more swiftly than in any other nation to date.

The findings of the research, which was commissioned by Drax Group, have been published today (5 December) in a league table ranking 25 nations on their efforts to drive renewable energy generation, phase out fossil fuels, encourage the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) and champion energy-efficient buildings.

During the research period, academics from the University’s consultancy arm Imperial Consultants assessed the decarbonisation efforts undertaken by the nations – which collectively account for more than 80% of the global population – across these five areas since the 1990s.

The UK was found to have performed particularly well in phasing out fossil fuels and increasing the proportion of national energy demand met by renewable generation – trends which the scorecard claims have largely been driven by its decision to set a carbon price higher than anywhere else in Europe.

These moves have led to a 260g decrease in the amount of CO2 produced per kWh of power generated since 2008, the league table states, with the average reduction by other nations standing at 100g/kWh.

Similarly, the UK is highlighted as a leader in EV adoption in the league table, largely due to the fact that its EV stock grew by more than 50% last year. According to the scorecard, the nation now plays host to the fifth largest EV fleet in the world.

Across all five metrics, the UK was ranked second, behind Denmark and just ahead of Canada. However, the scorecard notes that the UK could have achieved an even higher score and been ranked first if it had shown more leadership in installing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, highlighting the fact that the nation has a potential capacity of 70 billion tonnes.

Ministers have repeatedly been criticised over the decision to the £1bn competition fund for CCS in 2015 – a move which will reportedly cost the UK an additional £30bn if it is to meet its 2050 carbon targets.

Since then, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the world would be “unlikely” to limit warming below 1.5C - beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people - without CCS.

In light of the IPCC’s findings, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has unveiled plans to ensure that the UK’s first large-scale CCUS facility comes online by the mid-2020s.

Commenting on the scorecard, which will be distributed among delegates at the COP24 conference today, Energy Minister Claire Perry said: “This confirms the UK’s position as a world leader in decarbonising the economy - phasing out coal as we move to a greener, cleaner energy system with record levels of energy from renewables. We have also led the way in transitioning to low emission vehicles and today, one in five EVs sold in Europe is manufactured here in the UK.

“But we’re determined to do more to reduce our emissions, which is why we published plans for the UK’s first carbon capture, usage and storage project to be operational in the mid-2020s with the ambition of potentially rolling out this cutting-edge technology at scale in 2030s last week.”

Global storage shifts

More widely, the scorecard notes that only 2.5kg of CO2 per person is captured by CCS technologies and natural carbon sinks annually, compared to the average yearly carbon footprint of 5kg per person.

This gap between emissions and capture is attributed to the fact that just six of the 25 nations listed, have installed large-scale CCS facilities to date, namely Norway, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China and the US.

According to the report, the barriers to CCS adoption lie not in resource availability or cost, but in a lack of sufficient policy. It encourages policymakers in “laggard” nations such as the UK to adopt policies similar to those currently in place in the US, which implemented a tax credit system to incentivise CCS in 2008, or China, which has included CCUS in its last two Five Year Plans.

Sarah George


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