Report: annual 10% decarbonisation rate needed to meet UK's net-zero target

The UK will have to deliver annual carbon intensity reductions of 10% to meet its net-zero legislation for 2050, up from less than 4% currently, according to a new study from professional services firm PwC.

The report notes that decarbonisation through coal phase-outs can only be banked once

The report notes that decarbonisation through coal phase-outs can only be banked once

PwC’s latest Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) notes that the UK still leads the G20 in terms of decarbonisation rates, having recorded a 3.7% annual reduction. However, the study warned that decarbonisation rates are slowing and, therefore, the gap to meet climate gaps is widening.

Specifically, PwC notes that annual reduction levels of 9.7% will be required to meet the UK’s net-zero target for 2050.

PwC’s global climate change leader Dr Celine Herweijer said: “Achieving net-zero will require companies across all sectors to transform, drive innovation and grow whilst managing transition risks. This needs to happen at scale and speed over the coming two to three business cycles. It’s one thing for leading companies to set ambitious targets, but the ability to meet these will need strong government action to stimulate new market solutions. 

“Regulatory intervention will be key to helping many technologies and business models reach critical lift-off point. From R&D and clean infrastructure investment, to carbon pricing, tax incentives, and redirecting of subsidies; policy ambition in the UK needs to go hand in hand with business ambition.”

According to PwC, most of the UK’s recent emissions reductions have been delivered through the planned coal phase-out. However, once the phase-out is completed, reductions in other areas will need to be accelerated. Between 2012 and 2016, peak coal phase-out years, the UK achieved an annual average rate of decarbonisation of 6.9% and this has already shrunk to 3.7%.

In fact, the UK has only met the required 9.7% annual reduction once, back in 2014.

To spur progress towards net-zero, PwC has called on the UK Government to electrify sectors such as transport and heating by scaling up renewables and investment into clean energy sources, storage solutions and smart grids. Carbon capture and storage technologies will also need to be scaled, while improved agriculture and land-use practices need to be prioritised to restore carbon sinks.

Global perspective 

Earlier this year, a PwC report found that global decarbonisation efforts will need to be seven times greater than current efforts if the world is to stand a fair chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

The report found that reaching the Paris Agreement’s 2C limit for global warming would require the global economy to reduce its carbon intensity by 7.5% every year up to 2100. The report notes that this is five times faster than the current decarbonisation rate of 1.6% - less than half the decarbonisation rate witnessed in 2015 (of 3.3%) when the Paris Agreement was introduced.

In order to meet the more ambitious target of the Paris Agreement – limiting global warming to 1.5C which has been requested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) special report – decarbonisation rates must reach 11.3% annually. That is seven times greater than the current rate, which has slowed to its lowest level since 2011.

Global emissions actually increased by 2% in 2018, due to a 2.9% increase in energy demand. The report warns that extreme heat and cold weather patterns contributed to this growth in demand, and will likely exacerbate decarbonisation efforts in the future. In total, 69% of the increase in energy demand was met by fossil fuel production.

Matt Mace


carbon capture | decarbonisation | ipcc | low carbon


Climate change

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