UK needs policy action to meet net-zero target, reports says

22 August 2019

The UK government's legally binding target for 'net-zero' emissions by 2050 is "undeliverable" unless clean growth policies are introduced, according to a parliamentary report published today by the cross-party science and technology committee.

Norman Lamb MP, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee (Image: Norman Lamb's Office)

In June, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. The target requires the country to bring all its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of an at least 80% reduction from 1990 levels. It has already reduced emissions by 42% while growing the economy by 72%.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said clean growth is at the heart of its modern Industrial Strategy, but Norman Lamb, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said today that those words needed to be matched by actions.

"Parliament has declared a climate emergency. The worrying effects of climate change, such as heat waves, wildfires and flooding are already occurring at an alarming rate and will have a huge impact on future generations," Lamb said. "Throughout our inquiry, it was worrying to hear that although the government may be ambitious when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, it is not putting the policies in place which are needed to achieve those targets. We need to see the government put its words into actions."

The report, Clean Growth: Technologies for meeting the UK's emissions reduction targets, argues that the government's own projections suggest that the UK is not currently on track to meet its current emission targets, let alone net zero by 2050.

Lamb said: "The rate of deployment of several key low-carbon technologies is significantly lower than what is required to meet the government's ambitions, and various stakeholders expressed concern at the current and projected rate of progress of the UK's decarbonisation. We heard of cut backs in various programmes and slow progress, which are incompatible with the UK's two upcoming, legally binding, carbon budgets - this is unacceptable."

Nuclear among top 10 steps

The committee recommends 10 steps to meet the net-zero target. Among these, it says the government must make a decision on the future finance framework for new nuclear power by the end of this year.

"Subject to value for money, the government should seek to support new nuclear power generation so as to sustain, but not grow, the UK's nuclear power industry. It must anticipate any gap in future generation capacity such a policy would cause, and support sufficient renewable power alternatives to fill the gap," the committee says in a statement to accompany the report.

In July, BEIS opened for consultation its assessment of a new financing model aimed at reducing the cost of new nuclear power plant projects by having consumers pay upfront through their energy bills. A solution is needed urgently, it said, because nuclear energy is seen as a vital part of the government's commitment to cutting the country's carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Seven of the UK's eight existing nuclear plants are set to be retired by 2030.

BEIS said a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model has the potential to reduce the cost of raising private finance for new nuclear projects, thereby reducing consumer bills and maximising value for money for consumers and taxpayers. The RAB model would not apply to Hinkley Point C, which is currently under construction by EDF Energy in Somerset, England, but would apply to future projects. The consultation is open until 14 October.

Industry welcomes report

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, welcomed the committee's conclusion that new nuclear is needed to reach the government's net zero by 2050 target, noting that nuclear consistently provides reliable, low-carbon energy and already supplies half of the UK’s clean electricity. He too stressed the need for progress in financing new projects.

"It is imperative government urgently puts in place the necessary regulatory and financial frameworks to enable the development of new power stations - both to replace our current fleet, which will mostly retire by 2030, and to provide the firm power element of our future mix which the Committee on Climate Change has demonstrated will be required to successfully meet net zero," Greatrex said.

"The RAB model has the potential to deliver significant cost reductions to large infrastructure projects, making nuclear in the UK attractive to a wider pool of investors, reducing cost to the consumer and delivering the clean generation needed for us to reach net zero," he added.

Stephen Haighton, CEO of small modular reactor developer Moltex Energy, said nuclear power must play a leading role as a cost-effective and reliable source of low-carbon power if the UK is to address its global energy challenges and achieve net-zero emissions.

"Fourth generation nuclear power can be a cheaper and safer alternative to fossil fuels and, most importantly, will help to deliver a net-zero carbon economy," Haighton said yesterday. "Low-carbon electricity from new nuclear power could be made cheap enough to lower household bills and reduce the cost of electricity for businesses." Research shows that widespread adoption of fourth generation nuclear technologies could save the UK economy up to GBP16 billion (USD19.6 billion) annually, he added.

Not on course

In a statement to accompany its new report, the Science and Technology Committee said it welcomed the government's decision to strengthen its long-term emissions reduction target, to effectively eliminate all emissions by 2050, but noted that the Committee on Climate Change - an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 - had warned the UK was "not even on course" to meet its existing legally binding targets for 2023 to 2032. That committee's report on clean growth highlights that urgent government action is needed to reverse the current policy trend of cut backs and slow progress, it said.

The report published today lists 10 main areas in which government policy to support the implementation of low-carbon technology has been delayed, cut back or undermined carbon reductions. One of these areas, it says, is that the 'feed-in tariff' for low-carbon power generation "was closed". Another is that onshore wind and large-scale solar power have been excluded from the financial support mechanism available to other renewable power technologies since 2017, and planning permission for onshore wind farms has also been made more difficult to obtain since 2015. A third is that the government’s new White Paper on 'The future of the energy market' was due to be published in "early" 2019, but has not yet been published.

Alongside the recommendation to sustain nuclear power in the country's electricity mix, the report also stresses the need for policy priorities in nine other ways: a strategy for decarbonising heat; an incentive scheme for energy efficiency home improvements; a plan for reducing vehicle emissions; support for onshore wind and solar power; a review of the Smart Export Guarantee; managing and incentivising the removal of greenhouse gases; clear action on carbon capture, usage and storage; clean growth regulation of the energy market; and support for local authorities in contributing to the UK’s net-zero target.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News