The U.K., like many of the world’s other major economies, has made ambitious climate pledges, aiming to rollout renewable energy projects and invest heavily in new technology. However, after experts decided that its previous strategy did not match up adequately to its climate goals, the government quickly got to work developing something new, only to fall short once again, according to recent criticism.
In 2021, the U.K. announced its Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener, aiming to decarbonise its economy by 2050, in line with Paris Agreement targets. However, the High Court ruled that the policy was ‘unlawful’ and the government had not introduced adequate policies to meet the strategy. In response to the ruling, last month, the government produced a new climate plan entitled Powering up Britain.
At present, environmental organisations are accusing the U.K. government of not backing up its climate pledges with action. The group Climate Action Tracker found that less than 40 percent of the U.K.'s required emissions reductions are supported by proven policies and sufficient funding. And a report by the National Audit Office suggested that there is no clear delivery plan to meet climate pledges.
The government has made several ambitious and sweeping pledges, such as aiming for all of the UK's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035. This is huge, considering the 40 to 60 percent electricity demand rise anticipated by this date. But under the previous policy there was no clear strategy to achieving this goal. And under the new strategy, a government analysis suggests that it will meet only 92 percent of the emissions cuts required and, without more changes, the target will be missed.
Some successes have been seen, with the U.K. cutting emissions from electricity generation by 73.4 percentbetween 1990 and 2021. This was supported by the reduction of electricity generation from coal sources from 40 percent in 2012 to less than 2 percent last year. Meanwhile the percentage of electricity generated from renewables has grown to 40 percent. However, the U.K. still relies heavily on natural gas for its electricity generation, contributing around 40 percent. The government now plans to increase electricity generation from green sources by increasing offshore wind capacity five-fold by the end of the decade and constructing up to eight new nuclear reactors.
As the long-awaited updated climate strategy was launched at the end of March, many were hopeful that it would provide more solid action plans for meeting the government’s climate pledges. But for many, it disappoints once again. The new plan does not include timebound commitments for emissions reductions from specific sectors, stating that net-zero-aligned roadmaps will follow in the coming months. This will be accompanied by roadmaps for scaling green technologies. So, once again, it seems we are in wait-and-see mode.
Some believe that the U.K. is continuing to choose oil and gas over renewables even in the face of the major threat of climate change and following its leadership in the COP26 climate summit. After the publication of the new energy plan, hundreds of leading scientists wrote to the Conservative government asking U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to bring an end to new oil and gas developments. Many point to previous successes, as the U.K. has been well-known for its leading climate laws in the past, such as the enforcement of emissions reductions. The most recent legislation is viewed as the U.K. falling far behind its counterparts, including the U.S. and EU, when it comes to climate change action.
In recent months, the government has doubled down on its oil and gas plans, with the approval of a huge North Sea oilfield. It has repeatedly justified the move as supporting the country’s energy security while demand for fossil fuels remains high, as well as establishing low-carbon oil operations thanks to the incorporation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies into the project, with plans to invest almost $25 billion in CCS over 20 years. While many believe CCS is useful for decarbonisation, it should not be promoted as a means of decarbonising new fossil fuel projects when renewable energy sources could be developed in their place.
Energy experts point to several emissions from the new legislation including failing to call an end to routine gas flaring, not speeding up the ban on new gas boilers in homes, and not fully lifting the moratorium on onshore wind. It also fails to provide new home building regulations, with little commitment to home insulation or requirement for builders to fit solar panels on roofs. It therefore far less wide-reaching than the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) or the EU’s climate legislation.
Many of the failures in the new policy were blamed on the government’s inability to come to an agreement on fossil fuels and green energy, with changes still being made to the Net Zero Strategy just days before its launch. It seems that the policy was rushed due to the nine-month deadline given by the High Court in its 2022 ruling. Tom Burke, co-founder of the thinktank E3G stated “This is a level of chaos that reveals the extent of the internal unresolved disputes within the party on these issues.” Burke added, “There is an anti-green faction in the Tory party, and this chaos has been all about them.”
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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