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Climate change committee prioritises electrification and carbon capture

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The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has outlined how government policy must change if it is to achieve its ambitious target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.  

The report, Net Zero, sets out how the UK must rapidly clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions in the next 30 years, focusing on transport electrification, low carbon power, and carbon capture and storage technology to become carbon neutral.  

The CCC report goes one step further than the Climate Change Act which was passed 10 years ago, on the orders of then energy and climate minister Ed Miliband. That act aimed to curb emissions by 80% by 2050. 

The CCC has previously recommended that the UK develop two operational carbon capture and storage (CSS) sites by 2030, taking in 10M.t of carbon dioxide. The CCC now states that if the UK wants to achieve the goal of being carbon neutral, “it is very likely that more (CSS) will be needed” and that new facilities should also produce hydrogen gas to be used in powering heavy-goods vehicles and ships.  

Electric vehicles should also be a high priority, the CCC has said. Under current law, petrol and diesel passenger vehicles will be phased out by 2040, a target that needs to be brought forward to 2030 according the CCC – despite concerns about the infrastructure needed to support an entirely electric vehicle network.  

As for renewable energy sources, the CCC acknowledges that the industry is doing well in the UK, with a great deal of government support such as the recent £250M Offshore Wind sector deal.

But it says “low-carbon power must continue to expand rapidly, and increasingly.” The report adds: “and […] government intervention may still be needed” to encourage development of energy storage and interconnection solutions. 

CCC chairman John Gummer urged the government to turn the CCC’s recommendations into legislation. “We can all see that the climate is changing, and it needs a serious response,” he said in a statement.  

“The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part – we explain how in our new report – but it can be done within the cost envelope that Parliament has already accepted. The government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay.” 

WSP director of water energy and industry Frazer Mackay said the CCC recommendations could have gone further in pushing industry to meet existing carbon limits.

“WSP welcomes the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that Government should opt for a net zero carbon target by 2050, but questions whether it is bold enough, especially when it looks like we will fail to meet our legally binding 4th and 5th carbon budgets, as defined by the Climate Change Act,” he said.  

“But moving the goal posts will not be enough, and if anything, redoubling efforts to meet the 4th and 5th budgets becomes even more important for Net Zero to ever become reality.” 

WSP UK sustainability director David Symons said engineers would have to set the standards going forward. “Engineers are absolutely key to the zero carbon transition,” he said. “It’s engineers who will design the supply of low-carbon power, deliver a vehicle charging network and develop carbon capture and storage technologies.     

 “In the engineering sector, our aim is to set the standard. In the UK, we have a commitment to be a zero carbon business by 2025, which is leading us to innovate in our buildings and we also encourage our people to use lower carbon forms of travel, or not travel at all.”

Aviation Environment Federation deputy director Cait Hewitt said greater pressure was needed on carbon intensive projects like the Heathrow expansion in light of the CCC report. “The government’s plans for expansion at Heathrow, already the UK’s largest single source of carbon emissions, look increasingly difficult to justify,” she said.  

“While yesterday’s court judgement [on challenges to the government’s decision to support Heathrow expansion] rejected the climate challenges to the government’s plans, the court made clear that an eventual decision on Heathrow’s third runway (expected around 2022) will need to be made in relation to the climate legislation and policy in force at the time. Given the growing public and political sense of a climate emergency, that legislation is very likely to put increasing pressure on the aviation sector. 

The House of Commons recently joined the Scottish and Welsh governments in declaring a “climate emergency” following weeks of protest in the UK’s major cities.  

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