Report: UK leading G20 in low-carbon transition

The UK is leading the rest of the G20 nations in transitioning towards a low-carbon future by decoupling emissions from economic growth, although global decarbonisation rates aren't currently strong enough to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

That is according to a new report from professional services firm PwC. Published today (4 October), PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) 2018 reveals that the UK has been decarbonising at a rate of 3.7% per year since 2000 – a greater rate than the 3.2% required for a national contribution to the Paris Agreement goals.

PwC tracked the speed at which global economies are reducing their carbon intensity on an annual basis. During the 18-year period, the UK has reduced emissions by 29% while growing the economy by 34%, the report claims. 

The report reveals that the UK’s year-on-year decarbonisation rate in 2017 was 4.7% – down from 4.9% in 2016. China achieved the biggest year-on-year reduction in emissions in 2017, recording a 5.2 % fall in its carbon footprint.

“The UK is a global leader in driving the low carbon transition,” PwC’s director of climate change Jonathan Grant said. “Renewables, energy efficiency and dominant growth of the services sectors all contributed to the UK’s top performance compared with other G20 countries.”

The LCEI additionally highlights the progress made by the UK’s energy sector – where emissions per MWh generated have undergone a 29% decline in the last decade – while noting that the nation’s notoriously carbon-heavy heat and transport sectors continue to lag.

The 12-page document notes that wind energy generation rose by a third across the UK over the past year, as solar generation grew by 22%. Despite this progress, 80% of the nation’s energy needs are still generated from fossil fuel sources – largely due to heat generation.

“Following success in decarbonising the electricity sector, achieving the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy, which was launched last year, will now depend on faster progress in other sectors, such as transport and industry,” Grant added.

A global warning

While the LCEI highlights the strong low-carbon progress made by the UK – as well as countries such as Mexico and China – it also warns that the likelihood of the world reducing the global average temperature increase in line with the Paris Agreement is decreasing.

The report claims that global economies are collectively decarbonising at a rate of just 2.6% per year – less than half of what is required to limit average temperature increases to 2C. If this rate of progress continues, PwC estimates that the world will fail to meet necessary climate goals and carbon budgets before the end of 2020.

In order to combat this trend, the document calls for a “dramatic step-up” in decarbonisation efforts. Specifically, it recommends that all nations should consider reforming their emissions trading systems in order to raise the carbon prices. 

It additionally claims that the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies could make it possible for the world to achieve a 2C trajectory.

“Given the gap between talk and action on climate, the risks to business are obvious: fragmented, knee-jerk regulation and physical impacts of climate change,” Grant concluded.

“There are many solutions to this problem – governments just need to get on with implementing them.”

The findings echo those of a recent joint report from Data-Driven Yale, NewClimate Institute, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and CDP, which found that a 2C trajectory would not be realised – even if all businesses, nations and local authorities to have aligned with the Paris Agreement achieved their carbon goals.

Similarly, the United Nations (UN) last year warned that there is an “unacceptable” gap between national pledges and the emissions reductions required to meet the Paris targets.

Sarah George

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