The UK Carbon Plan – A Review

The UK Carbon Plan issued this week aims to set out how the UK will manage its carbon dioxide emissions over the next 39 years up to 2050 in order to reach the target of an 80% reduction on 1990 levels. It is signed by the PM, deputy PM and secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. This is a very significant document and it represents the first attempt at making such a plan in the UK. It is structured in terms of ministries, with each ministry given a series of actions and a timetable within which to achieve them. In one sense this gives the Coalitions detractors the perfect weapon to attack it with as it keeps to this timetable or fails to do so.

Everyone connected with sustainability in the UK, and many who are not and need to be, should read this document. There are many positive steps in it and it summarises an enormous amount of work done by this and previous Governments to understand the issues and design policies around them.

The report identifies the three single largest issues to tackle:

– generating our energy more efficiently and in cleaner ways, through renewables(RHI and FiT), Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and unsubsidised nuclear

-heating our homes and businesses in more efficient ways and reducing demand through retrofitting (Green Deal)

-powering our transport in other ways than through fossil fuels, lowering demand and improving conventional technology

All this is good-ish so far. But then comes the statement that “the UK accounts for just 2% of global emissions” the use of the word ‘just’ troubles me. In current terms yes, we produce 2% of world emissions, but that is not just anything, it is 2%.

If one factors in the information that we buy nearly all our manufactured goods from overseas then our impact is a lot greater than 2%, nor does it cover the fact that historically we are the fifth largest emitter of CO2. Per capita we are the second largest emitter of historical CO2. We may be behind China in lots of ways but we have had a couple of hundred years head start on them at emitting CO2, using very inefficient coal engines.

The other element of our emissions that is not dealt with is our indirect emissions, i.e. the balance of emissions produced from our imports and exports. This is in the region of 250Mt CO2 and our total annual emissions is 586 MtCO2. So we are causing the emission of nearly 50% on top of our annual internal total by buying in goods from abroad, mainly China and other Asian countries. While there are sections of the report that deal with assisting other countries to develop low carbon economies, this matter of exporting our emissions is not dealt with. On this basis we could continue to shut down UK industries, export manufacturing abroad to more polluting countries and still succeed in meeting our CO2 targets. This makes no sense to me. A Carbon Plan cannot stop at our national boundaries, CO2 doesn’t recognise them, climate change doesn’t recognise them and neither should we.

Since the Carbon Plan was released, (a week is a long time in politics) we have had the earthquake in Japan and all the problems with their nuclear plants. This will drive a big hole through UK nuclear policy, a policy that never convinced me, to build unsubsidised nuclear plants to fill the gap in our generation capacity as older plants are closed due to age and to meet CO2 reductions targets. The failure of ‘fail-safe’ tech simply demonstrates that nuclear power is unsafe and no amount of protestations otherwise is going to convince the electorate.

An interesting element of the report is the promise of a carbon price floor mechanism in 2013 from the Treasury. That would be interesting and useful but I predict that it won’t happen. The problems around the EUTS mean that the Treasury will be reluctant to set a floor price and without it many other policies, such as the ‘allowable solutions’ for zero carbon construction will have difficulty functioning.

Like may people I am curious to know what the line ‘introduce as part of the national planning framework a strong presumption in favour of sustainable development ‘ could possibly mean. Define sustainable development? Well they could ask the SDC, couldn’t they?, oh no!, they have scrapped the SDC!. Intriguingly, the report says that new homes must be zero carbon ‘while ensuring that the costs of new homes do not prevent suitable and sustainable development’ It goes on to say that ‘the Code for Sustainable Homes provides standards for the sustainable design and construction of new homes’ which leads me to think that there is little threat to the existence of the Code and its use in new housing. It may become part of Building Regs but it looks likely to continue in use, and possibly even extend its reach.

When it comes to zero-carbon homes the report really drops a clanger by saying that ‘around a third of the homes that will be in use by 2050 are yet to be built’ Really? Are we going to build 8 million homes between now an 250? In 39 years?. At current rates it will take us 80 years, and I haven’t spotted any policy changes that are going to double the rate of supply.

For the Green Deal there is no new information, but the timing of the RHI to coincide with it is recognition that in order to succeed these policies need to be dovetailed to support each other to achieve a successful outcome. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is a real example of cross ministry co-ordination, and needs to happen more often if the Greenest Government, Ever are to live up to their promise.

Overall the report is Good, even Very Good, with the caveat that there are some errors and significant emissions. The Committee on Climate Change has the job of reporting on annual progress of the plan. and the Government will report quarterly. This plan is the draft, and the final version will go live in October and be refreshed annually. Watch this space.


One thought on “The UK Carbon Plan – A Review

  1. Pingback: Elemental » Book Review: The Wind Farm Scam by John Etherington

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