UK on target for low-carbon future

25 March 2010

UK greenhouse gas emissions continued to decline in 2009, partly thanks to increased use of nuclear power. Meanwhile, the latest budget by the country's government announced a Green Investment Bank to support the move to a low-carbon economy.

Budget Day 2010 (Image: HM Treasury)
Alistair Darling prepares
to announce the Budget
(Image: HM Treasury)
Newly released figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show a decrease in overall greenhouse gas emissions of 8.6% in 2009, to a provisionally estimated 574.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, down from the 2008 figure of 628.3 million tonnes. Net emissions of CO2 were provisionally estimated to be 480.9 million tonnes, 9.8% lower than 2008's 532.8 million tonnes. According to DECC, the decrease in CO2 emissions resulted primarily from a "significant" fall in energy consumption, combined with an increased use of nuclear power and decreased use of coal for electricity generation.
The energy sector is the main contributor to the 9.8% cut in CO2, with power stations the main contributor within the sector. Between 2008 and 2009, emissions from electricity generation fell by 13% as a result of lower use of coal-fired generation but more use of nuclear. Gas-powered generation fell marginally, reflecting lower demand at a time of a contracting economy, but remained at historically high levels, according to DECC.
The results were described as "promising" by minister for climate change Joan Ruddock. "We already know from our 2008 figures that we are well on track to exceeding our Kyoto target of 12.5% below 1990 levels and are making good progress towards our first carbon budget target in 2012. Today’s results indicate that we are still moving in the right direction," she said.
Budget for low carbon investment
The national emissions statistics were announced the day after UK chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling delivered the country's 2010 budget - the last before the country holds general elections. Investment in low carbon technologies featured in the budget, with the announcement of a new Green Investment Bank to support private investment in low-carbon infrastructure projects.
In his budget statement, delivered to the House of Commons on 24 March, Darling said that the UK must renew and modernise its energy supplies if it hoped to improve its infrastructure. "We need to take long-term decisions to secure our supplies, while moving to a low-carbon economy. This means replacing our ageing nuclear power stations," he said, adding that investment would also be needed in renewable energy and sustainable transport.
The Green Investment Bank is to control £2 billion ($2.98 billion) worth of equity, with half coming from government coffers through the sale of assets including the Channel Tunnel rail link, and the other half from private investment. Darling said that the equity would in turn unlock "billions more" of private sector finance.
The budget documents fell short of stating that nuclear would be one of the technologies able to draw on the Green Investment Bank, highlighting off-shore wind power as an early focus for its investments. Quoted in the Guardian newspaper, however, UK energy secretary Ed Milliband emphasised all forms of low-carbon generation, including nuclear, wind and clean coal plants, would stand to benefit from proposed changes.
In a DECC press release, Milliband said the Green Investment Bank would be a major step in overcoming the financing challenges facing major infrastructure projects in the UK. The challenges faced beyond 2020, including the UK's binding commitment to 80% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050, would need "unprecedented" levels of investment in low-carbon electricity, he noted.


The date for the UK's forthcoming elections has yet to be announced, but the newly returned government will likely follow up its victory with a new budget.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News