UK Government Targets Net Zero Carbon Economy

UK Governments Targets Net Zero Carbon Economy

Achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere is referred to as “net zero.” There are two paths to net zero emissions that work together: decreasing existing emissions and actively eliminating greenhouse gases.

The UK government revised the Climate Change Act in 2019 to commit to attaining net-zero emissions by 2050, as opposed to the prior target of an 80% decrease in emissions by 2050.

The Climate Change Committee, which published a report on the UK’s sixth carbon budget on December 9, 2020, influenced the target. The Climate Change Committee is a legal entity established by the Climate Change Act of 2008. It provides advice to the UK government and devolved governments on the country’s progress in combating climate change.

To achieve a net-zero target, all emissions must be reduced to zero. Because this is unrealistic, the net-zero aim acknowledges that some emissions may occur, but that they must be entirely offset, mostly through natural carbon sinks such as seas and forests. The UK will be a net-zero emitter when the amount of carbon emissions produced is equal to the amount eliminated.

What are the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions?

greenhouse gas emissions

Six primary greenhouse gases were identified in the Climate Change Act of 2008: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride. The majority of these are made up of carbon dioxide. This is mostly created by burning fossil fuels in power plants, such as coal-fired power plants; other major contributors of greenhouse gases include industrial operations and waste management, such as agriculture and landfills. In 2018, they accounted for almost 19 per cent of total UK emissions.

Strategies for a Net-Zero Carbon Economy

The UK government’s current strategy to transition to a mostly carbon-free economy includes a major push for electric vehicles. Ministers are putting £620 million towards grants for electric vehicles and charging stations on the street. Automobile manufacturers will be required to sell a certain percentage of clean automobiles each year.

A further £350 million has been pledged to assist the automotive supply chain in making the transition to electric vehicles. The government’s new strategy aims to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a goal of net-zero emissions. The news comes just 12 days before world leaders meet in Glasgow to discuss ways to combat climate change.

Without strict action on climate change, the world will become hotter, sea levels will rise, and extreme weather will become more frequent, endangering all types of life. In comparison to 1990 levels, the UK has already achieved progress in reducing emissions. In 2019, the country produced 40% less than it did in 1990. The government also unveiled a plan to manage emissions from the UK’s 30 million buildings on Tuesday. Homeowners will be able to apply for incentives of up to £5,000 to replace gas boilers with low-carbon heat pumps.

It also includes £120 million for the development of SMRs, which are compact “modular” nuclear reactors that can be manufactured in a factory. It’s possible that these will end up in the Wylfa site in Wales, but it’s not guaranteed. Rolls Royce is extensively promoting these mini-reactors, but detractors argue that the technology will not be mature in time to fulfil the UK’s carbon limits.

On large nuclear, there has been a lot of debate over whether Sizewell C in Suffolk will be approved. However, funding has been a major stumbling block, and it appears that an announcement will have to wait until the Chancellor’s expenditure review.

There will also be an extra £625 million for tree-planting and peat restoration, despite the fact that the existing schedule is well behind the track.

The government is investing £140 million in two clusters that promote carbon capture and storage for hydrogen production. The centres will be in the North-West of England and North Wales, as well as Teesside and Humberside, where the government has pledged £1 billion to support CCS.

Hydrogen split from natural gas will be used to power heavy businesses in these areas. The CO2 emitted as a result will be injected into seabed rocks and stored. This will be contentious because environmentalists feel that hydrogen should be obtained by electrolysis, which can be done with excess wind energy. Because it appears unlikely that enough hydrogen will be left over to heat people’s homes, the government has decided to postpone any decision on hydrogen boilers until 2026.

Ministers are emphasising their need for business to lead the so-called net-zero transition. They claim that by 2030, it will have created 440,000 jobs and garnered up to $90 billion in private investment.

The government claims that it has spent £26 billion in the low-carbon revolution since the Prime Minister, Borris Johnson, introduced his 10-point climate plan a year ago. A new £500 million fund for low-carbon innovation will be included in that portfolio.

Other Policy Initiatives

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has released a briefing that details numerous other actions the government has implemented to accomplish its net-zero target. These are some of them:

  • Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the Emission Trading Scheme replaces the EU scheme. Energy-intensive industries are required to participate in the programme. They are granted licences to emit greenhouse gases and are able to trade them on the open market. Its goal is to encourage businesses to reduce emissions and save money.
  • Fuel duty is a levy on the road fuel consumed by UK drivers.
  • For large-scale power operations, Contracts for Difference guarantee a fixed price per unit of low-carbon electricity generation.
  • The Energy Company Obligation, which applies to large energy providers in the United Kingdom, forces them to improve house efficiency, with the costs passed on to consumers via energy bills.
  • Polluters in the business sector pay a Climate Change Levy (CCL) for every unit of energy consumed. If the user agrees to a Climate Change Agreement to improve their efficiency, they can opt out of CCLs.

Why is the government attempting to get net zero emissions?

government attempting to get net zero emissions

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), a non-departmental public organisation that advises the government on climate issues, suggested in May 2019 that the UK should strive for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This would keep the UK on track to meet its goals under the 2016 Paris Agreement to prevent global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The United Kingdom accounts for less than 1% of world emissions. The UK intends to set an example for others by demonstrating a path to net-zero emissions.

Our net zero emissions by 2050 possible?

If we are to maintain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, we must ensure that we emit no more CO2 into the atmosphere than we remove. Experts believe that if this is done, major heatwaves, droughts, and floods will be less likely by the end of the century. There are ramifications for global food supplies, livelihoods, and biodiversity. According to the International Energy Agency’s report Net-Zero by 2050, our energy infrastructure will need to be completely altered. Massive reductions in the use of coal, oil, and gas will be required.

As a result, the IEA recommends that no new unabated coal plants, as well as no new oil and gas fields, should be permitted for development starting 2021. According to the IEA’s roadmap, our economies’ energy systems must undergo a complete overhaul. It also emphasises that the gap between discourse and action must be bridged as soon as possible. By 2050, about 90% of the world’s electricity will have to come from renewable sources, with solar and wind accounting for 70% of that.

Which sectors will be affected the most by net-zero?

Transportation, energy supply through producing power from burning fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, businesses through commercial usage of electricity, and residential through heating homes, are the four most polluting sectors,   These are responsible for roughly 78 per cent of current emissions.

Since 1990, the UK has achieved significant reductions in emissions in the energy supply sector, which has historically been the worst offender, notably in the last eight years as a result of phasing out coal and boosting the use of renewables like wind and solar. However, emissions in other industries, such as transportation, residences, and agriculture, have remained substantially unaltered. It will be more difficult to decarbonize these locations.

Some parts of the UK will also find it easier to reach net-zero than others. In keeping with the CCC’s recommendations, the Scottish government has established a goal of net-zero emissions by 2045. It has more potential to remove emissions from the atmosphere than the rest of the UK due to its abundant acreage and potential for afforestation.

Wales, on the other hand, has a significantly more challenging path to net-zero emissions, even by 2050, due to high agricultural emissions. Wales should strive for a 95 per cent decrease by 2050, according to the CCC, which the Welsh government agreed to. This would not prevent the UK as a whole from being in trouble in the path to being net-zero by 2050. 

What are carbon budgets?

After consulting with the CCC, the government is required by the Climate Change Act of 2008 to set five-year carbon budgets. These will last till 2032. The budgets are created ahead of time and set five-year restrictions on total greenhouse gas emissions to guarantee that the UK meets its emissions reduction targets.

However, international aviation and shipping emissions are currently excluded from carbon budgets (those produced by planes and ships while in UK territorial waters and airspace). Although accurately calculating the UK’s contribution of these emissions is challenging, the CCC advises that such emissions be factored into the ultimate net-zero target.

The United Kingdom is now in its third carbon budget period (2018 to 2022). According to the Climate Change Committee, the UK is on track to meet its target of a 37 per cent reduction in emissions by 2022 compared to 1990, but it is not on the way to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets’ targets of 51 per cent reduction in emissions by 2025 and a 57 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. If the UK is to reach future carbon budgets and the net-zero aim for 2050, the committee said the government will have to “introduce more challenging measures.”

If climate change is to be controlled, the COP26 global climate meeting in Glasgow in November is viewed as critical. Nearly 200 countries have been requested to submit plans to reduce emissions, which could result in significant changes in our daily lives.