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Environment & Energy Blogs
Energy policy is back on the front pages, with stories about rising energy bills, energy suppliers going bust, and concerns over security of supply, with the UK’s electricity grid appearing to creak even before demand ramps up during the winter.
It’s a formidable in-tray for new Energy Minister Greg Hands, who will benefit from working alongside BEIS Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, a former Energy Minister himself.
Voices in the environment sector have long fired criticisms at Net Zero, the Government’s target for eradicating emissions by the middle of this century. Last year, Greta Thunberg argued that the world should ‘forget’ Net Zero, and an article recently posted by The Conversation argued it is a “dangerous trap”. However, the opposite is true; Net Zero is a practical and a political victory for the decarbonisation agenda, not a dangerous trap worth forgetting.
The Government’s tree strategy for England arrived this week, setting out a range of welcome measures designed to meet its manifesto promise of 30,000 hectares of new trees per year by the end of the Parliament. That’s about three times the current rate and it’s a tall order. Compared to places like France and Germany, which have tree cover upwards of 30%, the UK has a paltry 13%.
Last month the Government announced a surprise cut to the grants available for buyers of new electric vehicles (EVs) and restricted eligibility to only the cheapest models. The cut is the Government’s response to the growing popularity and falling prices of EVs, which threatens to blow the budget of the UK’s grant programme. The design of the grant programme sets up the Government to fail – to be seen as the climate Scrooge in the same year it hosts COP26, constantly intervening to cut support for EVs just as more drivers look to take the plunge.
Negative emissions are piquing the interest of the Government, as shown in its recent announcement of innovation funding for new negative emission technologies (NETs). However, policies based on grants and innovation funding are short-term options – they act as the spark to get the kindling going, but the fire requires continuous government support until the flame catches.
The Government’s post-Brexit “Better Regulation Committee” is reportedly looking at ways to improve on EU regulations.,Policy Exchange’s recent report, Post-Brexit freedoms and opportunities for the UK, is one contribution to that debate.Understandably, most of the focus has been on state aid, financial services and workers’ rights. One area that I think isn’t getting enough attention is energy markets.
New figures show that 2020 was the greenest year yet for the UK’s electricity supply, with nearly 60% of electricity produced by low-carbon sources. Offshore wind is now the driving force behind the UK’s greener grid, growing by around a quarter annually and already providing 17% of our electricity.
This week’s is a substantial document that moves the UK a step closer towards a Net Zero energy system. However, it’s clear that the White Paper is largely about ambition, which leaves a lot for the Government to do in 2021.
Reaching Net Zero requires more than just reducing emissions. To account for processes that will be exceptionally difficult to decarbonise completely (such as steel or cement making), we actually have to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, thereby balancing out at ‘net’ zero.
‘Negative emissions’ technologies (NETs), also known as Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) technologies, allow us to do that. They remove greenhouse gases – usually carbon dioxide – from the atmosphere and they are needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
The Prime Minister’s green announcement reflects several policies that we’ve championed over more than a decade.
After some key personnel changes at the top, the Prime Minister has begun his administration’s ‘reset’ with a long-awaited 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. The Plan has been broadly praised for its breadth and welcomed as a major statement of intent across multiple technologies. He combined knotty, unglamorous issues such as home heating with big, visionary technologies like CCS and hydrogen.