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.


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

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

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Comments (6)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Easiest way to reduce energy demand is to build houses properly to the highest energy efficiency standards.

    Right now even with the current building regulations the actual energy demand of the average house is 40 to 200% worse than regulations. This is due to zero Quality Assurance of house building. We have all heard of the 5pm Friday effect where insulation isn’t installed properly or the wrong materials have been used.

    Build all new houses to PassivHaus standard with proper QAQC oversight and the UK can cut energy demand massively. Then start improving the insulation and energy efficiency of the older housing stock to As High As Reasonably Practicable.

    Source Heat Pumps are NOT necessarily the solution as they are not effective in older homes. They do not heat the water hot enough to effectively work with "wet" central heating and radiators, they do not heat the water high enough to kill Legionella in hot water tanks and will never be effective with the older, leaky properties. They aren’t even effective in cheaply built, rubbish quality modern buildings due to the lack of oversight on building standards.

    It isn’t just about generating electricity from wind or solar or switching to electric vehicles but about reducing energy demand and wastage and changing our habits and lifestyles without impinging on quality of life.

  2. Paul Conway says:

    Have experienced first-hand the ‘Friday 5pm effect.’ Completely agree. Building controls oversight is almost non-existent.

    Would also add (and I guess this is part of the Passivhaus spec) that as well as insulation, houses need heat mitigation measures for our increasingly hot summers.

  3. Keiron Shatwell says:

    @Paul – I believe PassivHaus uses things like wider eaves to shade the house in the summer thereby reducing the solar heating effect of sun streaming in through the windows and the "heat recovery" used on the air circulation could probably work in reverse to help keep temperatures lower but I’m not sure on that.

    Of course you can still open windows to let excessive heat escape 🙂

  4. Paul Conway says:

    Keiron, of course, but you need all those other heat management measures. When a typical modern house is insulated to spec, they are warm in the winter but can be unbearably hot in summer. Opening a window doesn’t flush the hot air. I guess it needs to go up.

  5. Keiron Shatwell says:

    @Paul – that is very true and thank god for my chimney in summer. Whip out the "sheep" and get that draught going to draw the excessively warm air out the living room.

    While living in France we had external shutters on all windows. These massively reduced the incoming heat into our flat and still allowed us to open the patio doors to get a through breeze. In some cases the shutters could be lifted away from the wall at the base to allow access to window boxes or to allow a little more "indirect" light into a house.

    If you open a window on the ground floor and one on an upper floor you would get the same chimney effect I suppose. Danger is that in order to keep cool we all end up relying on Air Conditioning which is high energy demanding and adds to the problems in the atmosphere.

  6. Richard Phillips says:

    More basically, a flexible, reliable, totally "carbon free" generation of electricity is needed. Nuclear generation is about as carbon free as is practicable, but requires political understanding which is almost totally lacking among MPs, who do not rise from the science, engineering quarter. But our nuclear industry was crippled by a certain PM in the 80s.
    As for the renewable front, note the wind generation was almost zero 6,7,8, and 9 this month. And renewables are all liable to uncontrollable outage.
    Does anybody out there have a molecule/molecule mechanism for a process whereby CO2 can punch so much above its weight; water vapour rules the climate system.
    Oh! heresy!
    Richard Phillips

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