Building a zero-carbon economy: call for evidence

Published: 12 December 2018

Energy Systems Catapult has responded to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) Call for Evidence on building a zero-carbon economy.

On 15 October 2018, the governments of the UK, Scotland and Wales asked the CCC to provide advice on the UK and Devolved Administrations’ long-term targets for greenhouse gas emissions and the UK’s transition to a net zero-carbon economy.

This advice will be based on thorough consideration of relevant evidence and is expected to cover:

  • When the UK should reach net zero emissions of carbon dioxide and/or greenhouse gases as a contribution to global ambition under the Paris Agreement; if that target should be set now
  • The implications for emissions in 2050; how such reductions can be achieved
  • The costs and benefits involved in comparison to existing targets.

Key points

  • UK emissions reductions (certainly for the period 1990-2010) have been achieved to some extent through offshoring of UK industry.  UK progress in decarbonisation is much less strong when viewed from a consumption perspective.
    • However, the UK has been a leader in contributing to global carbon reduction goals over the past decade, both in reducing its emissions and diplomatically in terms of pushing for ambitious international action.  It should aim to continue this role in future, by contributing its full share of the reductions required to deliver net zero.
  • The UK has shown international leadership in climate change mitigation through the creation of the carbon budget regime under the Climate Change Act 2008. The UK can continue to show international leadership in developing and deepening it climate policy regime and governance. Particular focus should be given to developing a soundly designed and governed set of economic drivers for long-term and deep economy-wide decarbonisation.  The UK should also play a full part in the development of international collaboration and climate policy (e.g. the implementation and monitoring regimes around the Paris agreement).
  • The development of effectively governed global carbon credit markets could play a key role in shaping and increasing the effectiveness of international mitigation efforts. But this depends crucially on building sound governance frameworks, accounting, monitoring and verification systems.
  • Energy System Catapult recently updated the work on the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI); Clockwork & Patchwork – UK Energy System scenarios . This work has found that ‘a balanced multi-vector approach can deliver an affordable, low carbon UK energy transition, with costs rising to around 1% of GDP by 2050’. It is very unlikely that emissions can be reduced to close to zero in all sectors in a cost-effective way. The ESC/ETI study clearly demonstrates the importance of taking a whole-systems view and choosing an efficient balance of effort across the energy system.
  • Greenhouse gas removal technologies and value chains look extremely valuable options for the UK to develop. There is now a substantial body of evidence which suggests that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a valuable and sustainable option for the UK. It has high value even with relatively modest volumes of biomass. This is summarised in the ETI insights paper ‘The evidence for deploying bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) in the UK’.
  • Clearly there is substantial scope for behaviour change over the next 3 decades – in how we heat our homes, in how we travel and in what we eat.  But in seeking to achieve GHG-friendly change in all of these areas, it is important that low carbon alternatives deliver against people’s needs and they improve outcomes.  This suggests the importance of aligning policy to achieve co-benefits like improved local environmental quality, or better health outcomes.
  • The government’s Clean Growth Strategy represents a significant step forward in integrating climate policy objectives with broader industrial and economic objectives. A continued policy commitment to industrial strategy and public investment in energy innovation is important.
    • However, it is also important that there is a renewed focus on developing a more coherent economy-wide set of economic drivers for decarbonisation. In effect given the scale of the challenge we need to take a whole systems approach into climate and energy policy development and design.
    • Our Rethinking Decarbonisation Incentives project has shown how the pattern of effective carbon prices produced by the current policy mix varies inefficiently and arbitrarily across different sectors and emitting activities. The economic drivers for decarbonisation also remain for the most part too weak to meet targets.
  • The distribution of costs, risks and opportunities associated with cutting emissions will depend crucially on the mix of policy measures adopted to drive the change. As far as possible, a technology neutral policy framework will reduce the risk of opportunities being ‘captured’ by particular industrial interests. A policy framework that provides a level playing field to reward emissions reductions wherever they can be most economically delivered is most likely to deliver the lowest cost abatement burden for taxpayers and consumers.