UK renewables groups warn of work ahead needed to meet government’s fifth carbon budget

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Image: Maurice/Flickr.

UK-based renewable energy companies and associations have unanimously welcomed news that the government has set the fifth carbon budget at the recommended level, but warned of the work ahead needed to meet those targets.

The UK has a target to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2050 to a 1990 baseline, which is enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008. The government has initiated a phased approach to this target and establishes the so-called carbon budgets for certain reporting periods.

Yesterday the country’s energy secretary Amber Rudd laid a draft order before parliament setting the carbon budget for the 2028-2032 period at 1,725MtCO2e; the level recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the government’s advisory body on climate issues – in February.

That figure is representative of a 57% cut in emissions compared to 1990.  

Yesterday was the final day in which the government could respond to the budget recommendation to meet a statutory deadline, and Rudd teased her department’s response yesterday morning during a speech tackling the Brexit referendum’s impact on climate targets.

A statement issued by Rudd read: “Setting long-term targets to reduce our emissions is a fundamental part of building a secure, affordable and clean energy infrastructure system that our families and businesses can rely on and that is fit for the 21st century.

“The UK remains committed to playing its part in tackling climate change to ensure our long-term economy security and prosperity.”

While the government has backed the CCC’s recommendation, it will not legislate or publish policy proposals to meet that recommendation until later on in the year. A wider carbon plan is currently being drawn up and is to be published towards the end of 2016.

The news has nevertheless been welcomed by the renewables industry which has applauded its “bold” and “ambitious” targets.

Friends of the Earth’s Simon Bullock welcomed the “certainty” the decision had provided. “Investors will now know that the UK is a place where low carbon investment can flourish… The big challenge is to ensure stronger policies to meet this carbon budget. The Committee on Climate Change has repeatedly warned that we are not on track to meet our climate goals for the 2020s,” he said.

Good Energy chief executive Juliet Davenport said the budget setting had “never been more urgent”.

“Things have to change and we need a clear policy framework to ensure that more people and businesses are able to choose renewable energy. The move to a 100% renewable future is happening. This carbon budget should give a clear signal that renewables are back, and are still an attractive investment.”

James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association, said that the Brexit referendum had not changed any “fundamentals of energy” and that the country still required “cost effective, low carbon and secure” energy.

“This would be the worst time for the government to row back or U-turn on existing commitments, which would be toxic to inward investors. So this is a positive first step, but will need to be backed up by a robust energy plan by the end of the year.

“The referendum has been a shock to economy, yet we still have a looming energy gap. Renewables will be easier to finance than larger centralised projects, will give the UK energy security and price stability, as well as boost new technology jobs and inward investment,” he added.

The UK Solar Trade Association meanwhile took the opportunity to highlight the severe downturn UK solar had recorded since the turn of the year, and called upon the government to acknowledge the role it can play in meeting the ambitious targets.

“The Solar Trade Association very much welcomes the strong support expressed for solar by the Committee on Climate Change and by the Minister in her evidence to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee yesterday.

“However, in our meeting this week with Minister Andrea Leadsom we urged her Department to take specific actions to address the significant slow-down in the industry following the recent changes to the solar support framework. We believe that a number of relatively minor changes could help stimulate the market.

“As an industry we are on the path to a subsidy-free future, we hope by the early 2020s. To achieve this, we need a flourishing UK industry and a government that allows us to compete on a level playing field with other renewables as well as nuclear and gas,” newly elected chairman of the STA Jonathan Selwyn said.

Richard Black, director at the Energy Climate Intelligence Unit, however warned that the UK’s success until now was broadly attributable to policies put into place years ago, and that investment stood to decline as a result of recent policy u-turns.

“The main message from the Committee on Climate Change is that the train is about to hit the buffers, because current policies aren’t going to generate the investment needed to maintain progress. Just weeks after signing the Paris Agreement, David Cameron’s government is about to finalise its target for cutting UK emissions by 2030 – but his successor will need to put new policies in place if the target is to be met,” he said.

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