Britain's carbon budget

23 April 2009

Binding limits on carbon dioxide emissions have been set for the UK in the first move of its kind by any country.

The limits were announced yesterday at the same time as the latest annual fiscal budget for the country. They are to be met through collective policy action across all government departments under leadership from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and advice from the Committee on Climate Change.

Three five-year periods have been defined. The first covers 2008-2012 and mandates a target of a 22% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the end of 2012 compared to 1990. Energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband said the UK is "on course to meet" that goal.

Between 2013 and 2017 emissions should be further reduced to 28% below 1990 levels and the third period of 2018-2022 should see carbon dioxide emissions cut to "at least" 34% below 1990 levels. The cuts could be even deeper, the UK government said, if there was a global agreement for the period after 2012.

It would be in the third time slot that large new nuclear power plants could begin operating, while previous periods only see older smaller units progressively shut down.

Bradwell: potential site for UK new build? (Image: Magnox South)

The action comes under the Climate Change Act, which has a goal to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. This target and the o nes in between are described as legally binding with the government required to put in place policies to ensure the five-year budgets are met. The government did not explain what would happen should the country wander from its 42-year long reduction pathway.

The limits will apply to emissions not already covered by the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme, which already has limits of its own to 2020.

Favoured technologies

Action was announced across the energy spectrum excluding the revival of nuclear, which is a major project for the government in itself. An extra £1.4 billion ($2.0 billion) was put towards energy efficiency, renewables and research into carbon capture, taking the total subsidy for those to £10.4 billion ($15.1 billion) over the next three years.

New offshore wind projects are likely to receive up to £3.5 billion ($5.1 billion) over their lifetimes due to an expected revision in the Renewables Obligation system of certificates which forces generators to source increasing amounts of power from renewables.

Renewables will also benefit from up to £4 billion ($5.8 billion) in loans from the European Investment Bank, which the UK government expects to boost around £1 billion ($1.4 billion) in small and medium-sized projects that already have planning consent. A European target stipulates that 20% of electricity should come from renewables by 2020.

Funds on a smaller scale are also being put into decentralised low-carbon energy, and at least ten community heating schemes.

In 2007 new energy policies and a white paper on nuclear power determined that its availability is in the public interest and that the government should move to ensure it remains a viable option. It was specified that companies building nuclear plants would have to pay the full costs of construction, decommissioning and waste management.

In the new wave of nuclear power in Britain, plans for four new large reactors are already outlined with more emerging up to a total that could exceed ten. They would operate until at least around 2080.

The government said: "By setting the pathway to the 2050 target through carbon budgets we're providing a clear, credible, long-term framework, which gives businesses the certainty to invest in low-carbon products and services, and to invest to reduce their own emissions."