Despite the go ahead this week for the controversial and so-called “green” shale gas fracking project in Blackpool, the UK still faces some pretty tough challenges if it is to meet its carbon emission reduction targets.
OK, perhaps this new source of gas can help by replacing the need to burn more polluting coal. Perhaps it can even be collected without wrecking the local environment. But clearly much more needs to be done if low carbon targets are to be met.
The government has just underlined its commitment to the cause by accepting the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations for a legally binding reduction in CO2 emissions to 50% of 1990 levels by 2025.
This builds on the 42% target by 2020 and, as another intermediate milestone towards an overall 80% reduction by 2050, reminds us just how far our thinking − and our actions − must still shift.
London Mayor Boris Johnson wants to go further. He has set out an even bolder intermediate target to reduce the capital’s emissions by 60% by 2025 in a bid to become “the greenest (major) city on earth”.
Fortunately, Boris’s vision also includes plans to deliver these carbon reduction targets across housing, business, energy and transport. When added to the nationally driven policies a clear roadmap emerges.
So the good news, is that on a city by city basis the technical solutions are there.
“Showing the private sector that there is a business case for investment is vital. The low carbon future must be seen as a business opportunity”
But as London Development Authority environment director Martin Powell points out this week, the key to delivering these targets is unlocking the finance.
The cost of retrofitting and upgrading the nation’s stock of energy inefficient, Victorian housing, its aged office accommodation, and polluting road systems, overcrowded public transport and outdated fossil burning power stations will be high.
Showing the private sector that there is a business case for investment is vital. The low carbon future must be seen as a business opportunity.
But the economic downturn makes funding for even the best low carbon ideas that much harder to come by. Hence the real value of local funds such as the recently launched £100M London Green Fund which hopes to kick start £500M of investment and bring these ideas to life.
And confirmation this week of government support for the Green Investment Bank should also mean that major low carbon projects such as offshore wind, tidal and wave power and smart grids will also soon get a boost.
The opportunity is there, not simply to do good for the planet but also to revitalise the economy. And the rewards will be limitless, because tackling climate change is a never-ending task.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor