Current Policy Projections
Taking into consideration the current COVID-19-related economic crisis, total UK GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) are projected to be between 51-53% below 1990 levels in 2020 (HM Treasury, 2020; OECD, 2020; UK Government, 2019f). This means the UK will substantially overachieve its 2020 emissions target of a 37% reduction below 1990 levels. It would also have done so in the absence of the COVID-19 crisis, albeit by a smaller margin. However, emission reductions over the following decade may yet prove to be too slow, with the current 2030 emissions target sitting between the CAT’s high and low emissions scenarios that include the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Prior to the COVID-19 related economic slowdown, government projections under current policies showed emissions were expected to be higher in 2030 than the targeted level.
In the 11 years since the passage of the Climate Change Act in 2008, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen by 32% and it has provided the foundation for the coordination and advancement of climate action in the UK, including a projected phasing out of coal-fired power plants by 2023. The legislation was updated in 2019 to include a net-zero 2050 emissions target, with the UK becoming the first major economy in the world to legislate such a target.
The UK’s five-year carbon budgets, formulated under the original Climate Change Act legislation, were originally set in order to comply with the previous 2050 goal of an 80% reduction below 1990 levels. This means that simply achieving the current 2030 emissions target based on the fifth carbon budget is not sufficient to ensure the UK meets its long-term net-zero target. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) did not recommended changes to these budgets, but rather that the government overachieve them. However, the Committee did note it would reconsider whether legislative changes would be necessary to strengthen the fourth and fifth carbon budgets when it delivers its advice on the sixth budget period (2033-2037) in late 2020.
Although the UK is expected to continue realising emission reductions from the electricity sector, it is the projected stagnation and increases in other sectors of the economy that have the UK on its currently deficient emissions reduction trajectory. Only slight CO2 emission reductions are expected in the agriculture and transport sectors, while emissions from residential dwellings are expected to continue rising at least until 2035 (UK Government, 2019f).
With the UK having left the EU in January 2020, it is now expected to submit its own NDC in compliance with the Paris Agreement (Born, 2016). This is a unique opportunity for the UK to considerably scale up its emission reduction targets and set a leading example for other developed countries to do the same. With the UK now scheduled to host the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021, there is particular impetus for the UK to demonstrate leadership in the following months.
The UK is currently in the Brexit transition period which will end on 31 December 2020, and during this time it remains subject to the conditions of the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS). In June 2020, the UK Government published its response to its consultation on the design of a future UK ETS (UK Government, 2020j). It outlines a starting date of 2021, with the first phase running until 2030, but does not specify whether it will be linked to the EU ETS or be a standalone system, noting that both options are still being considered. The scheme will cover energy intensive industries, the power generation sector and aviation, including domestic routes, and those to European countries.
An initial cap of 5% below the UK’s notional share in Phase IV of the EU ETS will be established, and the government will consult with the CCC upon the release of the Sixth Carbon Budget to determine an appropriate trajectory to align with the 2050 net-zero target. Under a standalone UK ETS, a floor price of £15 per allowance will be set to ensure a minimum level of ambition and price continuity within the scheme’s early years of operation. International credits will not be permitted initially in the UK ETS, but this may be subject to review in the future. A review of the initial performance of the scheme is set for 2023, with any changes to be implemented by 2026.
A recent announcement that the UK’s export credit agency, UK Export Finance, will be barred from offering financial support to foreign fossil fuel projects is a welcome development (Ambrose, 2020a). This decision comes, however, after the agency continued to grant loan guarantees, and direct funding for foreign fossil fuel projects to the value of £3.5 billion since signing up to the Paris Agreement in 2016. This includes £2 billion in 2018 alone, and a £1 billion financial package for a gas project in Mozambique agreed to just a month prior to announcing the ban on future financing.
The UK electricity sector has been rapidly decarbonising in recent years, with CO2 emissions from the supply of energy reducing by more than half between 2013 and 2018. This is primarily due to a sharp drop in coal-based electricity production, which in 2019 amounted to just 2.5% of total generation, replaced by increasing production from renewables and natural gas (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020e; UK Government, 2019j). Low carbon generation accounted for more than half of total generation for the first time, reaching 51.6% (up from 49.6% in 2018), thanks to record output from wind, solar, and bioenergy, and outpacing a decline in nuclear generation. With coal now close to being eliminated from the UK power sector, natural gas, which accounted for 45% of generation in 2019, will consequently need to be scaled down considerably over the next decade just to meet existing emission reduction targets.
In the first half of 2020, in part due to a steep reduction in overall electricity demand caused by the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown, the UK went for 67 consecutive days with zero coal-fired generation (Murray, 2020). This was the longest period the UK has operated without coal power since the Industrial Revolution.
In February 2020, the UK government brought forward the date for the phase-out of coal-fired power by one year to 2024. However, this remains one year later than the government’s own projections of a phase-out by 2023 (UK Government, 2019j). In any case, a 2024 phase-out makes the UK a world leader in this regard, and is well ahead of the 2030 phase-out date for OECD countries required to limit global warming to below 1.5°C (Climate Action Tracker, 2016; UK Government, 2019f). The UK in conjunction with Canada, founded the Powering Past Coal Alliance in 2017, a global alliance of national and sub-national governments, businesses and organisations working to advance the transition away from unabated coal power generation by 2030 for OECD countries like the UK (Powering Past Coal Alliance, 2019).
Despite the progress that has been made on phasing out coal, concerns remain that the UK’s energy planning policies are outdated and are being used to approve new fossil projects, including a planned new gas plant in Yorkshire. Environmental campaigners launched a judicial review against the government in May 2020 after it refused to review the National Policy Statement for Energy (NPS), with the aim to force an overhaul of the policy to prevent such future approvals for fossil fuel projects (Ambrose, 2020c). This was followed in July by campaigners winning the right to appeal a High Court ruling siding with the government’s decision to approve the Yorkshire gas plant, which, if built, would be the largest in Europe (Business Green, 2020).
In 2019, the share of renewable energy in total electricity generation reached almost 32%, while wind power alone produced more electricity than nuclear (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020e).
In the third quarter of 2019, electricity generation from renewables totalled an estimated 29.5 TWh, exceeding the quarterly output from all fossil fuels combined for the first time ever, and subsequently rising to 40.1 TWh in Q1 2020 (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020d; Evans, 2019a). This is a stunning turnaround from just nine years prior, when total fossil fuel-based electricity generation was more than ten times that of renewables (Evans, 2019b). The share of total electricity generation coming from renewable sources reached 47% in Q1 2020, an all-time high, and 11 percentage points higher than Q1 2019 (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020d).
Despite this steep progress, the government has resisted calls to set a carbon-intensity target of below 100gCO2/kWh by 2030 as recommended by the CCC (Committee on Climate Change, 2018). This compares to a 75-80gCO2/kWh by 2030 Paris Compatible benchmark derived for the EU in a recently released analysis by the Climate Action Tracker (Climate Action Tracker, 2020). The government’s energy white paper, originally scheduled for release in early 2020, but yet to be released at the time of writing (August 2020), would be an ideal time to include such a target.
The UK government has confirmed its commitment to growing the offshore wind power industry with the announcement of a further £250 million in funding in 2019 on top of 2018’s £557 million already pledged for clean power auctions (UK Government, 2019b). Offshore wind energy is expected to generate a third of UK electricity by 2030.
After being blocked from competing for subsidies in 2015, onshore wind registered a 94% decline in the number of new applications between 2015 and 2018 (Unwin, 2019). As a result, only 23 projects came online in 2019, roughly 5% of the peak of 405 in 2014, and all but one of these 23 projects had secured support from subsidy schemes before they were closed (Ambrose, 2020b). This implies a continuation in 2020 of the downward trend of capacity coming online. The onshore wind industry is hoping for a resurgence from 2021, however, as the government announced a reversal of its ban on this technology competing in future renewable energy auctions, with the next auction scheduled for 2021 (Lee, 2020).
The UK solar PV industry has been facing difficulties of its own, with slow rates of growth in residential systems seen since incentives were slashed dramatically in early 2016 (Vaughan, 2018). Upon subsidies being cut completely in April 2019, installations subsequently fell by 94% in May (Ambrose, 2019a). The government announced a replacement policy called the Smart Export Guarantee which compels large energy suppliers to offer an export tariff to customers, however this did not come into effect until 1 January 2020 (UK Government, 2019d). This left a nine-month gap in customer incentives to install solar PV, creating hardship for solar installers. The large-scale solar PV sector has also faced difficult conditions since being banned in 2015, alongside onshore wind, from competing in renewable energy auctions. However, this ban, as with onshore wind, was reversed in March 2020, which should help the industry to recover from 2021 onwards.
The UK has a substantial bioenergy sector, which saw a similar year-on-year increase in generation in 2019 to that of other renewables, due primarily to increased capacity (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020c). However, burning biomass is an imperfect form of renewable energy for numerous reasons. For example, the use of biomass from sensitive forests can result in a loss of wildlife due to habitat destruction, while burning wood products sourced from high-value trees as opposed to low-value wood and forest residues is wasteful and results in higher emissions than if these trees were used for long lasting products like buildings or furniture (Simon, 2020). After ongoing public criticism of the sector, Drax, the UK’s largest biomass plant updated their sourcing policy in 2019 to ensure the biomass it uses meets Forestry Commission sustainability recommendations (Drax, 2020; Matthews et al., 2015). The UK provides an estimated £1 billion a year in subsidies to UK biomass energy producers through a fee on energy bills, and there is growing pressure to redirect this money to other forms of renewable energy (Power Technology, 2020).
The CCC in its 2020 Progress Report to Parliament stated that “low-carbon hydrogen is critical to achieving Net Zero and needs to be deployed at scale during the 2020s”. In February 2020, the UK government announced £70 million in funding to develop two low-carbon hydrogen production plants, the installation of an electrolyser to harness offshore wind energy and some smaller trial projects (UK Government, 2020b). However, a comprehensive and ambitious strategy to scale up low-carbon hydrogen production is still missing. In the absence of such a strategy, the UK’s gas network operators in May 2020 unveiled a £900 million plan to switch Britain’s gas grid from using methane natural gas to hydrogen and biomethane (Edie, 2020).
Japanese companies Toshiba and Hitachi each decided to cancel the planned construction of their respective UK nuclear power plants within two months of each other in late 2018 and early 2019 (Financial Times, 2019). This has thrown the government’s energy policy into disarray, with experts noting that the problems faced by these cancelled plants, primarily their high cost of energy production and the rapidly falling cost of renewables, are not unique to them, but are also being faced by the remaining three nuclear plants planned by the UK government. The Hinkley Point C plant currently under construction continues to register cost blowouts and delays, with the total project cost now expected to be as much as £22.5 billion (Gosden, 2019).
In light of these cancellations, there have been growing calls for a review of the UK’s energy policies. In October 2019, it was announced that the much-anticipated Energy White Paper, expected mid-2019, was to be delayed until Q1 2020, however at the time of writing in August 2020, it had yet to be released (Lempriere, 2019).
The UK is also investing in the development of advanced nuclear technology, with a £44 million investment in the Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) feasibility and development project (UK Government, 2020c). In January 2020 Rolls Royce announced it plans to build between 10 and 15 small modular reactors in the UK on former nuclear sites, with an intention to have plants operational by 2029 (Harrabin & Prescott, 2020).
A recent announcement of £220 million in funding for the design of a nuclear fusion power station confirms the UK’s commitment to the long term development of nuclear fusion technology (Reuters, 2019). However, the completion of a large-scale plant is not expected before 2040, and with this as-yet-unproven technology’s history of setbacks and delays, the relevance of this technology in contributing to the government’s 2050 net zero emissions target is questionable.
Oil and Gas
Government projections show that oil and natural gas will still constitute over 70% of total UK primary energy demand in 2030 (UK Government, 2019h). With 60% of current oil and gas demand in the UK being met by domestic production, it can be expected that the local oil and gas industry will remain a significant component of the UK economy across the next decade.
To this effect, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) launched a consultation in May 2020 with the intention of revising its strategy to be consistent with - and help to meet - the UK’s Net Zero Target (Beggs, Paton, & O’Flynn, 2020). It conceded that the oil and gas industry should “go considerably faster and further in reducing its own carbon footprint, or risk losing its social licence to operate”. The proposed new strategy promotes the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS), proposes an improvement in the governance of offshore licensees, and collaboration across the supply chain, as well as numerous other more minor proposals.
The only way electricity generated from natural gas could contribute to the 2050 net-zero emission target is with the extensive utilisation of CCS, which is a technology that is not yet commercially viable. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has also explicitly outlined the need to move away from natural gas for residential heating, as the emissions resulting from this consumption cannot be sequestered (Committee on Climate Change, 2019b).
The residential sector constituted 62% of total UK final natural gas demand in 2018, which demonstrates the extent to which natural gas consumption must decrease over time (UK Government, 2019i). The government has indicated it plans to ban gas heating systems in new dwellings from 2025, which is a positive development, but is only partly in line with the CCC’s recommendation that also called for a ban on the use of gas for cooking in new homes from the same date (Taylor, 2019).
In a positive development, natural gas fracking was suspended across England from November 2019. However, the UK government admitted that this suspension was not permanent. Andrea Leadsom, the UK Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at the time, added that a permanent ban was not implemented because shale gas is something the UK “will need for the next several decades”, and that it is a “huge opportunity for the United Kingdom” (Cowburn, 2019). This is in contrast to findings that energy transformation without natural gas is possible and that continued investment in natural gas infrastructure risks these assets becoming stranded (Climate Action Tracker, 2017).
Since 2016, the transport sector in the UK has produced more GHG emissions each year than any other sector, and given the slow rate of projected emission reductions to 2030, this is projected to remain the case (UK Government, 2019f). Between 2019 and 2030, UK transport emissions are projected to fall by only 11% based on current policies.
The UK government’s 2020 budget included £27.4 billion for its Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2): 2020-2025, which includes £14.1 billion for new roads and expanding the capacity of existing roads (UK Department for Transport, 2020c). The Department for Transport has not published any assessment of RIS2’s cumulative impact on CO2 emissions, but one analysis has calculated it at an additional 20 MtCO2e between 2020 and 2032 (Sloman & Hopkinson, 2020). This is calculated as negating 80% of the potential emissions reductions resulting from the uptake of electric vehicles and their use on the UK’s 7,200 km strategic road network (SRN) that RIS2 covers. The RIS2 is facing a legal challenge that asserts its impact on the UK’s climate change commitments have not been properly considered, and in August 2020 the case was permitted to proceed to the High Court for judicial review by the end of 2020.
Work is currently underway by the UK government to publish a Transport Decarbonisation Plan by the end of 2020, with which it intends to outline what is needed to achieve net zero emissions across every mode of transport by 2050 (UK Department for Transport, 2020b).
In February 2020, the UK government announced a consultation to seek views on bringing forward its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible (UK Government, 2020g). The earlier ban is in response to the CCC advice that 2040 would be too late to achieve its 2050 net-zero target, however the CCC’s 2020 Progress Report to Parliament asserts that the ban should come into effect by 2032 at the latest (Committee on Climate Change, 2019b). The proposed 2035 date also now includes a ban on sales of hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars that were not originally included in the original 2040 proposal. Any update to the ban should also be legislated to provide greater certainty of success, unlike the previous ban which was not legislated (Ambrose, 2019b).
In the first half of 2020, the registration of new electric vehicles in the UK (excluding hybrids) reached 4.7%, a stunning increase on the total share of registrations for 2019 of 0.9% (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, 2020). In the month of June 2020, this share reached 6.1%, demonstrating a continued and steep increase in uptake.
In 2018, the government cut subsidies for plug-in vehicles, with the subsidy for battery electric vehicles cut from £4,500 to £3,500, while grants for plug-in hybrids were cut completely despite an aspiration of to up to 70% of new car sales being ultra-low emission by 2030 (BBC News, 2018). The subsidy scheme was extended in the 2020 budget for three additional years, until 2022-23, however the amount of the subsidy was further cut to £3,000, and was scrapped for cars costing more than £50,000 (UK Government, 2020k). Vans, taxis, and motorbikes continue to be eligible for subsidies under the extension. Battery cars costing over £40,000 will now also be exempt from the higher excise duty charges until 2025. This excise duty, called the “expensive car supplement” previously imposed an additional £320 per year, on top of the £145 base.
The Road to Zero Strategy was released in 2018 and includes £106 million to develop low and zero-emission vehicles in the UK (UK Department of Transport, 2018). This was matched by a £500 million commitment from industry. The strategy outlines the UK’s aim to be at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero emission vehicles. The strategy also includes measures to reduce emissions from existing vehicles like increasing the supply of low carbon fuels and extending the scope of commercial vehicle retrofits, the launch of a £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, and ensuring 100% of the UK government vehicle fleet is ultra-low emission by 2030.
The UK is currently investing heavily in expanding and upgrading its rail network. Under Control Period 6 (CP6, 2019-2024), the UK government allocated £48 billion in funding for the rail network, £10 billion more than the previous funding period (UK Government, 2017d).
There are currently a number of large railway enhancement projects under construction in the UK. These include: the Great North Rail project, scheduled for completion in 2022, which will provide 2,000 extra services each week, and enable 40,000 additional passengers to travel by rail each day across the north of England, and the Thameslink Programme that will upgrade infrastructure and upgrade the stock with 115 new trains (Network Rail, 2020).
The government granted approval in early 2020 to proceed with the High Speed 2 (HS2) project, after it went through a review process in 2019 (BBC News, 2020c). HS2 will be the UK’s second high speed rail project after the High Speed 1 project opened in 2003. The first phase of the project will result in 214km of dedicated track connecting London and Birmingham, while phase 2 will connect Birmingham to both Manchester and Leeds to the North. A leaked official review of the project showed the expected cost to now be £106 billion, after an initial price tag in 2015 of £56 billion. Phase one is expected to be completed between 2028 and 2031, with an expected phase 2 completion window of 2035-2040.
The UK government’s decision to allow the expansion of Heathrow Airport was ruled illegal in early 2020, with the future of the proposed third runway in doubt as a result (BBC News, 2020b). The Court of Appeal ruled that the decision to allow the expansion was unlawful because it did not consider the UK’s climate commitments and that the government had a duty to take into account the Paris Climate Agreement. The government has announced it will not appeal the decision, however Heathrow Airport has indicated it will mount a challenge.
The UK Government granted another controversial airport approval in 2020, with the decision to convert a disused former military airport in Manston into a dedicated cargo airport. This decision goes against the advice provided by the Examining Authority following a two year investigation into the proposal, which stated that not only was the airport not required to meet local or national needs, but that it would “have a material impact on the ability of the Government to meet its carbon reduction targets” (UK Department for Transport, 2020a).
Cycling and Walking
The £1.2 billion Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy provides funding over the period 2016-2021 for new infrastructure and upgrades as well as cycling proficiency training for children (UK Government, 2017b). The policies included in this strategy are expected to reduce UK emissions by 7.5 MtCO2e between 2013 and 2032. The strategy aims to make walking and cycling the natural choices for shorter journeys in every urban and rural community in England, reducing commuting by car and other car travel and its associated emissions. An update to this strategy is scheduled to be released sometime during summer 2020.
The government announced in May 2020 that £2 billion of the £5 billion pledged towards improving bus and cycling services in the 2020 budget would be allocated specifically towards increasing the rates of cycling and walking (UK Government, 2020a). The first stage of this project will involve £250 million in immediate funding to construct pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions and cycle and bus-only corridors.
In 2019, the UK government legislated vehicle emission standards that are in line with EU regulations stipulating a limit of 95g CO2/km for new passenger vehicles and 147g CO2/km for vans from 2020 (UK Government, 2020f). As per the 2019 legislation, these will change from 2025, also in alignment with EU regulations, to a 15% emissions reduction below a 2021 baseline for both cars and vans, and from 2030, this will increase to a 37.5% reduction below the 2021 baseline. Between 2013 and 2032, fuel efficiency standards for cars are projected to reduce cumulative emissions by 79 MtCO2e, however this also includes road transport electrification policies (UK Government, 2019g).
In 2019, buildings in the UK contributed 18% of total UK GHG emissions and according to the CCC, policy addressing this sector is lacking (Committee on Climate Change, 2020b). In the leadup to the 2019 election, the ruling conservative party announced a £9.2 billion investment over ten years to improve the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals, but this has been described by the CCC as insufficient. So far, only £3 billion of this funding has been allocated, announced as part of the government’s economic recovery package in response to the COVID-19 crisis (UK Government, 2020e). The UK’s Clean Growth Strategy outlines a target of upgrading all fuel-poor homes to the energy efficiency standard EPC Band C by 2030, and as many homes as possible by 2035, which the government has calculated as requiring between £35-£65 billion (BEIS, 2019; UK Government, 2017e).
The consultation for the Future Homes Standard, which is to be implemented in 2025, initially proposed that homes constructed from 2025 onward produce at least 75-80% less CO2 emissions than one built to requirements in 2019 (Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, 2019). This was rejected by the CCC as not ambitious enough, stating that homes constructed from 2025 should not only be ultra-energy efficient, but also zero-carbon (Committee on Climate Change, 2020a). A ban on the installation of gas boilers in new homes constructed from 2025 was announced in 2019, but this would still allow gas stoves, and therefore does not go far enough.
Reforms to the planning system announced in mid-2020 include a pledge to make new homes carbon neutral by 2050, a timeframe that is inadequate for achieving the steep reductions needed from the buildings sector across the next decade (BBC News, 2020a). A recently-released analysis by the Climate Action Tracker that derived Paris Agreement compatible sectoral benchmarks for key emitting countries asserts that for the EU, all newly constructed buildings should already be zero emissions (Climate Action Tracker, 2020). The previous government introduced the Code for Sustainable Housing in 2006 that aimed to achieve carbon neutrality of new homes by 2016, but this was scrapped in 2015 by the current government before it took effect.
The UK government is currently formulating the Buildings and Heat Strategy, due for release later in 2020, and the CCC has recommended that it include a phasing out of the installation of all new gas boilers by 2035 at the latest (Committee on Climate Change, 2020b). The CCC also stated that the strategy should be supported by tax or levy changes that favour low-carbon heating over fossil fuels and funding for capital grants (including for hybrid heat pumps) at a much larger scale than existing plans.
Emissions from business and industry in the UK have fallen significantly since 1990, sitting roughly 43% below 1990 levels in 2019 (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020e). This has been driven, in particular, by plummeting industrial process emissions (-81% since 1990). With a tonne of steel requiring 40% less energy to produce in the UK in 2017 than it did 40 years prior (UK Government, 2017a), this demonstrates that emission reductions have been realised through both efficiency gains and decreased output. According to the most recent government projection of UK emissions under current policies, this sector’s emissions are projected to fall a further 22% below 2018 levels by 2030 (UK Government, 2019f).
As part of the government’s economic recovery package in response to the COVID-19 induced slowdown, a £350 million investment was announced to reduce emissions from heavy industry (UK Government, 2020i). This includes £139 million towards scaling up CCS and to support the transition from natural gas to hydrogen, and £149 million to drive the use of innovative materials in heavy industry including recyclable steel.
In 2017, the UK government released a series of eight sector-specific action plans setting out government and industry commitments to decarbonise and increase energy efficiency (BEIS, 2017b). Common across many sectors in these action plans are the following prescribed actions: clustering of industrial sites to deliver energy savings, switching fuel use to biomass, utilisation of carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency measures, and electrification of heat generation (BEIS, 2017a). The measures identified in these action plans are, however, voluntary commitments, and therefore compliance is not guaranteed.
The UK’s Industrial Strategy, which outlines four ‘grand challenges’, one of which is to “maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth” was also released in 2017 (UK Government, 2017c). Specifically outlined in the strategy are commitments to develop smart energy systems to remodel the electricity grid, transform construction techniques to improve efficiency, invest £162 million in innovation for a low-carbon industry, and build on the sector specific action plans to further cut energy use and improve productivity.
The main policies in place that target industry emissions are the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, the F-gas regulation, the Climate Change Levy and Climate Change Agreements, the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme, and the Industrial Heat Recovery Support initiative.
The Industrial Energy Transformation Fund is a £315 fund announced in 2018 that aims to assist businesses with high energy demand cut their energy bills and carbon emissions through investing in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies (BEIS, 2020). Funding is available through 2024 both for feasibility and engineering studies, as well as industrial energy efficiency projects. Currently there is no government estimation as to the total emission reductions expected to result from this fund.
The F-gas Regulation is an EU-wide regulation in place since 2015 that will cut total EU F-gas emissions by two thirds below 2014 levels by 2030. This is slightly below the reduction required under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol which requires a 70% reduction below the average consumption between 2011-2013 by 2029 (UNEP, 2019). For the UK, it is projected that cumulative emissions will be reduced by 107.5 MtCO2e over the period 2018-2032 as a result of this policy. A UK specific legislation covering F-gas emissions was passed in 2019, ensuring the continuation of emission reductions beyond the UK’s exit from the EU (UK Government, 2019e).
The UK’s Climate Change Levy (CCL), introduced in 2001, is a tax on the supply of energy in the industry, commerce and public sectors which has facilitated an increase in energy efficiency since its inception (UK Government, 2017a). CCL rates have increased over time, last being ratcheted up in April 2019, while the government has announced it plans to continue increasing rates in the future to drive further efficiency gains (UK Government, 2019g). Under the Climate Change Agreements (CCA) scheme, in place since 2013, businesses voluntarily agree to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, in return, receiving a discount on the CCL (Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020b). The total value of these discounts to participants since its inception has averaged nearly £300 per year. The UK government confirmed in 2020 that the CCA scheme would be extended for two years to March 2025.
To comply with the EU’s Energy Implemented Efficiency Directive, the UK established the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), a mandatory energy assessment scheme for large businesses. It requires companies to measure their total energy consumption and carry out audits to identify cost-effective energy savings measures (UK Government, 2017a). With an announcement by the government that they intend to simplify energy reporting into a single scheme, ESOS may change from its current form now that the UK has left the EU. This policy is expected to reduce UK emissions by 10.4 MtCO2e cumulatively between 2013 and 2032.
The Industrial Heat Recovery Support initiative was launched in 2018 to encourage the reuse of waste heat from industrial processes. This initiative includes £18 million in funding towards feasibility studies and to subsidise the deployment of heat recovery technologies and is expected to reduce emissions by 1.5 MtCO2e cumulatively between 2018 and 2032 (UK Government, 2019g).
In 2030, GHG emissions from agriculture are projected to be roughly 8%, or 3.5 MtCO2e, lower compared to 2018 levels under current policies (UK Government, 2019f).
The UK’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for Agriculture (GHGAP), implemented in 2011, is an industry-led initiative and the principal mechanism for delivering reductions in emissions from agriculture across England (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 2017). In a review completed in 2016, it was found the initiative had achieved a total reduction of 1 MtCO2e as of that year. Emission reductions are expected to pick up pace in the third carbon budget, with an expected 3 MtCO2e per year expected by the end of 2022. In order to achieve this level of mitigation, however, it was conceded that further uptake of proven methods is necessary. The next review of the GHGAP is scheduled for 2020.
There is also considerable action being undertaken by the devolved parliaments within the UK. The Scottish Government in 2018 released its Climate Change Plan, which details sectoral emission reductions to 2032. Under this plan, the agriculture sector is targeting a 9% reduction below 2018 levels by 2032, amounting to a 0.8 MtCO2e fall in emissions (Scottish Government, 2018). Under the Welsh Climate Change Strategy, a 2020 target of a 0.6 to 1.5 MtCO2e emission reduction below the average 2006-2008 level has been in place since 2010 (Welsh Government, 2010).
A wide-ranging Agriculture Bill that aims to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment across Britain was debated in late 2018, but was stalled for almost a year until being reintroduced after the Queen’s speech in October 2019 (Hill, 2019). It was introduced to the House of Commons at the beginning of 2020, but at the time of writing in August, had still not been passed into law. The latest government communication from February 2020 confirms that emission reduction activities, including tree planting, would qualify for public funding under the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme, however the scheme is only scheduled to commence in late 2024 (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, 2020).
Since 1990, the land sector has acted as a carbon sink for the UK, with decreasing emissions from agriculture combining with removals from forestry resulting in net negative emissions from this sector. In 1990, the land sector emitted around 0.3 MtCO2e, by 2018, the sector had become a net sink and sequestered 10 MtCO2e. In 2030, the land sector is projected to remain a sink, sequestering around 11 MtCO2e (UK Government, 2019f).
Scotland has been doing much of the heavy lifting recently when it comes to tree planting, having planted roughly eight times more trees than were planted in England in 2018/19 (BBC News, 2019). Overall however, the UK reached less than 50% of the 30,000 ha/yr rate of tree planting recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to help meet the UK’s climate targets. The CCC has stipulated this rate would need to be raised to 50,000 ha/yr if emission reduction targets are not met. In the 2020 budget statement, the government announced a goal of planting 30,000 ha of trees over the next five years, corresponding to one fifth of what would be needed to achieve the level recommended by the CCC (UK Government, 2020d).
In 2018, the UK government released its “25 Year Environment Plan” to improve the natural environment (UK Government, 2018a). This report outlines a target of increasing the area of woodland in England to 12% by 2060 by planting 180,000 ha by 2042. The total area of Woodland in the UK stood at 3.19 million ha in 2019 (Forest Research, 2019). It also committed the government to designing a new “woodland creation grant scheme”, which aims to incentivise large scale afforestation to meet the UK’s carbon goals. These grants are now available under the Country Stewardship program with agreements starting at the beginning of 2021.
As part of this plan, the government has committed to plant 11 million trees in England between 2017 and 2022 (Forestry Commission, 2018). Across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years, a reported 3.64 million trees were planted in total in England, equating to approximately 2,318 ha, meaning the government is not currently on track to meet its target (Forestry Commission, 2019). A £50 million scheme intended to increase the rate of tree planting was unveiled in late 2019, giving landowners the opportunity to sell carbon credits generated from woodlands on the open market or to the government until 2055/56 (UK Government, 2020l). In August 2020, the UK government announced a consultation on a new law to prohibit larger companies from importing certain commodities if they were produced on illegally deforested land (UK Government, 2020m).