The Sixth Carbon Budget - The UK's path to net zero report from the Committee on Climate Change has recommended a 78 percent reduction in UK territorial emissions until 2035 - relative to 1990 - bringing forward the previous 80 percent target by nearly 15 years.
It has outlined four key steps that will enable the carbon budget to be met:
- Take up of low-carbon solutions
People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions, as high carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low-carbon – largely electric. By 2040 all new trucks are low-carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
- Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies
UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the Prime Minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.
- Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities
The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.
- Land and greenhouse gas removals
There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13 percent of UK land today to 15 percent by 2035 and 18 percent by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.
Similarly four key points were highlighted in terms of electricity generation:
- Emissions from electricity generation have already fallen by 68 percent since 1990 The majority of these emissions reductions happened in the last decade. Emissions fell by 62 percent between 2008 and 2018, reflecting a move away from coal towards gas and low-carbon generation. The sector was responsible for 15 percent of UK emissions in 2018.
- Options for reducing emissions Reducing power emissions further will entail increasing the role of renewables and possibly nuclear, and decarbonising dispatchable generation via carbon capture and storage (CCS) and/or hydrogen. In order to accommodate high levels of renewables, demand will also need to become increasingly flexible, which will require improvements in system flexibility from storage, interconnection, and demand-side response.
- Analytical approach The analysis undertaken to develop scenarios for the Sixth Carbon Budget was based on power modelling that explored varying roles for generation technologies given electricity demand from other sectors. Finding least-cost systems that are optimal across hydrogen and electricity supply required complementary off-model analysis that informed the development of our scenarios. We find that it is possible to phase out unabated gas by 2035 and build a power system with 75-90 percent share of variable renewable generation by 2050.
- Uncertainty Scenarios to 2050 include uncertainties that will need to be resolved. This includes uncertainty over the achievable CO2 capture rates of CCS; the level of flexibility that smart charging, pre-heating, and storage can provide; the carbon intensity of imported electricity; the ability to ensure security of supply as unabated gas-fired generation is phased out; the future costs of low-carbon technologies; and the implications of a growing electricity system for water use.
Sanjay Neogi, Head of UK and Europe for Enzen Group, said the report highlights that the journey to net zero will involve a significant transformation of our energy use.
"We need a plan to match, with a clear end goal and the steps to get us there. Investors, consumers and businesses need to make decisions today to help us reach our 2035 decarbonisation target of 78 percent," he said.
"We can clearly identify the pillars of change from heating and buildings to waste, transport and aviation. But the success of this transformation will depend on getting the details right. Crucially, we can't make such changes in isolation and need a joined-up approach across all aspects of energy efficiency to ensure the transformation delivers maximum benefit."
Lindsay Sugden, Head of Heat Research at Delta-EE, the new energy consultancy, said around one million heat pumps need to be installed per year to meet the target – up from just 32,000 a year currently.
"The challenge is greatest in existing buildings, where currently less than one in 100 boilers is replaced with a low carbon alternative – this needs to increase to one in three to get near the target," she said.
"Customer and installer adoption are strong barriers, and incentives alone have struggled to overcome this. The combined stick and carrot approach now proposed, with a possible ban on natural gas boilers by 2033 combined with subsidies and grants, will be vital to increase uptake of low carbon heating."
A long-term plan with stable support is critical for the industry to have the confidence to invest in the supply chain and labour force needed to make this exponential leap in low carbon heating, she added.