With right policies, UK can achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050

Walney Extension turbines at sunset. Source: ├śrsted A/S

May 2 (Renewables Now) - A net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) target by 2050 for the UK can be achieved with known technologies and at an acceptable cost if current policies are strengthened -- something that has to happen immediately, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said today.

The independent non-departmental public body, formed under the Climate Change Act, released a new report in which it recommends a net-zero GHG emissions target for the UK by 2050, in line with its commitment under the Paris Agreement. Because Wales has slightly lower opportunities than the rest of the country, the recommendation there is for a 95% emission reduction target by 2050, based on 1990 levels.

In addition, the CCC said Scotland can achieve net-zero emissions five years earlier, and its government was quick to announce the lodging of amendments to the Climate Change Bill in order to introduce a legally binding target of net-zero GHG emissions by 2045 at the latest. Scotland will reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040, which it says is "the most ambitious statutory targets in the world for these years."

Thanks to the significant drop in the cost of key zero-carbon technologies, such as offshore wind and batteries, this new net-zero emissions goal for the UK could be met within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it okayed the existing target for an emission reduction of 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, the report says. The CCC, however, points out that this would be possible only if “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions further are introduced across the economy without delay.”

Even the existing, lower target of 80% could not be met with current policy, the committee noted.   

To build a net-zero economy, the UK will need to quadruple the supply of low-carbon electricity by 2050. Electric vehicles (EVs) will have to become the only option from 2035 or earlier. Further progress in the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and low-carbon hydrogen is needed. The CCC report also says efficient buildings and low-carbon heating across the UK’s building stock would be of high importance, as well as the planting of more trees and measures to reduce emissions on farms. No biodegradable waste should be allowed to go to landfill.

“Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed. Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land,” the CCC said, adding that the transition has to be fair for consumers and businesses.

The CCS admits that it is currently impossible to predict the exact mix of technologies and behaviours that will best meet the challenge of reaching net-zero GHG emissions, but it presents its idea of "a sensible mix" following the analysis done for the report.

This includes extensive electrification, particularly of transport and heating, leading to a near doubling of electricity demand. This would have to be met will 100% low-carbon sources. CCC calculates that such a scenario could require 75 GW of offshore wind in the UK in 2050, compared to 30 GW targeted by 2030. This is “definitely achievable”, according to Matthew Wright, Managing Director at Ørsted UK. The offshore wind major has almost 3.2 GW of installed offshore wind capacity in the UK and 2.6 GW with a final investment decision (FID).

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Browse all articles from Tsvetomira Tsanova

Tsvet has been following the development of the global renewable energy industry for almost nine years. She's got a soft spot for emerging markets.

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