Building from the bottom-up: domestic action to drive global deep decarbonisation
By ucfaspy, on 6 July 2015
If we are to deliver a decarbonised global energy system to ensure we sufficiently reduce the risk of dangerous climate change, it is strong action by countries that will be needed. While obvious, much of the analyses that emerges and is reported by the IPCC provides global solutions which are not necessarily grounded in the realities of specific country contexts. The question is what are the necessary actions that are needed to be undertaken by countries?
The Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project (DDPP), backed by the UN and the French Government, is a collaborative global initiative that aims to begin to address this, by demonstrating how individual countries can transition to low-carbon energy systems consistent with the internationally agreed 2 °C target.
To do this, independent research institutes from the 16 largest emitting countries have been working on national-scale analyses that explore the different pathways to decarbonisation. These pathways highlight the types of technologies that will be necessary to transform fossil-intensive systems into low carbon ones, and which are appropriate given national contexts. They provide robust, evidence-based analyses that allow policy makers and the public to see how this can be achieved, beginning now and in the longer term out to 2050, and the associated opportunities and challenges ahead.
As part of this initiative, the UK DDPP team has produced the report Pathways to deep decarbonization in the United Kingdom. Based on a new modelling analysis, the report shows how the UK can meet its own domestic climate targets that will put it on course to achieve deep reductions by 2050. However, it is clear that getting near to achieving this will be contingent on developing a policy package that is both ambitious, provides certainty to investors and is consistent, ensuring all government policy follows a ‘low-carbon’ direction.
The UK report argues that the types of technical pathways are well known, despite large uncertainties, and that what is needed is a strong push on policy. This means acting now to get on the pathway. Our analysis shows the need for a more than halving of per capita emissions by 2030, largely met by a low carbon power generation sector. The recent proposed withdrawal of support for the most cost-effective renewable technology, onshore wind, would seem to be at odds with this level of ambition.
There is also a concern about how policies made today around infrastructure will affect the UK’s ability to meet the longer term 2050 target, and the more stringent reductions in the decades that follow necessary to get us to a net-zero emissions economy, probably by 2070. The Government’s response to the recent Airport Commission’s report will need to consider the extent to which capacity expansion is consistent with the required long term reductions. Our analysis suggests the technological solutions for aviation are limited, and therefore strong year-on-year growth is unsustainable.
The analysis also suggests that continued use of high levels of gas in the system is again contingent on commercialised, large-scale CCS. Policy therefore should be prioritising support for the development of such technologies, in partnership with other countries, not on the development of new fossil resources.
While we have a legislative framework in place out to 2050, the long term nature of the target means that it is all too easy to think that current policy does not have an impact. It does of course, in terms of getting us on the right pathway and for strategic decisions that will have long lasting implications. There is a real need to ensure current policy is mindful of our long term ambition.
We may also need to re-consider the 2050 target, which is not set in stone. After all, the Climate Change Act 2008 states that the target is ‘at least’ 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. The main reason for tightening the 2050 target will be so that we make the investments in a system before 2050 that are consistent with the need for a net-zero system by 2070.
Increasing ambition across what are already challenging objectives will be difficult via technology-based solutions alone. It is likely that stronger consideration will need to be given to reducing demand for energy services, through pricing mechanisms and other incentives. A focus on reducing emission through changes in consumption and demand reduction will become increasingly critical.
In summary, the pathway ahead is challenging but can be achieved with the right policy packages and political will. While national action is critical, to meet the challenge will also require a strongly internationalist outlook. The UK can play a strong role in international engagement in regard to cooperation on technology, providing a lead on the need for stronger long term climate ambition and the institutional capacity required to do this, and continuing to and scaling efforts in ensuring climate-resilient financing and development overseas.
As Edward Hale once said I am only one, but I am one. Even as small energy player, the UK can play an important role in helping realise deep decarbonisation, in parallel with action across many other countries.