Big Story 10

Record year on green energy not enough to meet UK carbon targets

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Although Britain generated most of its electricity from low carbon sources for the first time in 2017, it needs to invest more in clean energy to meet climate change targets, experts said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A school group walks near solar panels on a roof in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, Britain, April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Nuclear is the UK’s largest source of low-carbon electricity at 21 percent, followed by wind at 15 percent and biomass at 9 percent, according to analysis by Carbon Brief, a website that covers energy policy, using data from Imperial College London.

“Even though there’s been good progress so far, there isn’t enough new low-carbon generation that we know of to meet the UK’s targets,” Simon Evans, policy editor at Carbon Brief, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 42 percent since 1990, meaning it is half way toward meeting a legally binding target to cut these emissions by 2050 to 80 percent below 1990 levels.

It is investing in projects to support new nuclear technology, cut the cost of renewables and encourage people to buy low-emission vehicles, as Britain’s aging coal and nuclear plants are due to close in the 2020s.

But initiatives to fund technology to capture carbon emissions from power plants and industry and store them underground have yet to produce a commercial-scale project.

Gas is the UK’s main source of power, providing 40 percent of electricity, Carbon Brief’s analysis showed.

“New nuclear costs are far higher than anticipated and carbon capture hasn’t even got off the ground yet,” Tom Jennings, policy director at the Carbon Trust, an environmental consultancy, said in emailed comments.

“The big challenges are low carbon transport - such as investment in electric vehicles - and heat.”

Most of Britain’s emissions reductions have occurred in the power and waste sectors, while emissions in the transport and building sectors are rising.

Shelagh Whitley, a climate expert at the London-based Overseas Development Institute, said that Britain must end fossil fuel subsidies to meet carbon targets.

“The government spends almost 200 million pounds a year subsidizing fossil fuel-based electricity production,” she said in emailed comments.

“That extends the life of high-carbon assets, and makes it more challenging for alternative lower-carbon options to compete.”