The government has committed to releasing a Net Zero Strategy for the UK ahead of the COP26 summit in 2021.
In its response to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) Progress Report – which was released in June and called on the country to seize the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address” the urgent challenges of climate change and COVID-19 together – the UK government has promised to release a comprehensive decarbonisation plan that will help guide the country towards its net zero by 2050 target.
“The strategy will set out the government’s vision for transitioning to a net zero economy, making the most of new growth and employment opportunities across the UK. These will raise ambition as we outline our path to hit our 2050 target,” wrote energy secretary Alok Sharma and energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng in their foreword to the response.
This will be in addition to the Energy White Paper, Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Heat and Buildings Strategy, documents expected to lay out the pathways for specific sectors.
The Energy White Paper is particularly eagerly awaited by the energy sector, having been repeatedly delayed. It was originally supposed to be published in the summer of 2019, but the most recent comment from the government suggests it is expected in Autumn 2020.
Beyond the announcement of a Net Zero Strategy, the government’s response to the CCC’s report details how far the UK has come with decarbonisation and the steps being taken to push this further. Much of this – as it did in the CCC’s report – focuses around the concept of ‘building back greener’.
This includes pointing to the increased offshore wind target of 40GW by 2030, with £160 million of funding to support this, the £2 billion Green Home Grant scheme and the reintroduction of the Pot One Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction, which will see onshore wind and solar able to compete for the subsidy for the first time in years.
The allocation will help accelerate the deployment of onshore wind and solar, “both of which will be key to delivering net zero at low cost,” the report notes. The next allocation round will open in late 2021, with a target to support doubling the capacity of renewable electricity compared to that secured in the 2019 allocation round.
Solar Trade Association chief executive, Chris Hewett, said: “The government has taken constructive steps on what will undoubtedly be a long road and the announcement of a comprehensive Net Zero Strategy is welcome. What we need to see in that strategy is the same level of ambition for solar and battery storage as there has been for wind. Britain needs to triple its solar capacity in the next decade in order to get on track for net zero.”
Beyond generation, the report notes that the government has awarded £70 million for a number of flexibility innovation programmes. These include flexibility market platforms, large scale storage, smart tariff comparison, using smart metering for smart charging of electric vehicles and an energy data catalogue.
Further reaffirmation of the need to decarbonise transport was also featured, with the report highlighting a number of investments into the electric vehicle sector as well as the potential of green hydrogen and the need for direct air capture technologies.
Successes such as the country’s 67 day run without coal were celebrated, leading Sharma and Kwarteng to state “we can say with confidence that the UK will meet its ambition to phase out coal power by 2024".
This was possible thanks to an almost six-fold increase in renewable energy capacity from 8GW in 2009 to 47.4GW at the end of April this year. However, more still needs to be done to decarbonise the power network, especially given demand is expected to double by 2050 due to the decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors.
Recognising this, the government's report states that it agrees with the CCC that the falling cost of wind and solar means that the technologies are likely to provide the majority of the UK's generating capacity in 2050. To secure the reliability of the system, this will be supported by technologies like nuclear, biomass or gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS), as well as battery storage and interconnectors.
Additionally, the report promises an updated Bioenergy Strategy to be published in 2022, updating the UK’s stance for the first time since 2012 and highlighting how it will contribute to the UK’s energy system.
This was particularly well received by the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), with Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of the group, “strongly welcoming” the new commitment.
“Bioenergy remains essential to the renewables revolution. Its role is diverse, contributing an immediate and affordable solution to the decarbonisation of heat and transport, while providing dispatchable renewable power that enables energy security. Overall, if done sustainably, bioenergy could meet 16% of primary energy supply by 2032. The UK will not meet net-zero carbon emissions without it.”
The report continues to respond to the CCC’s recommendations, reaffirming its commitment to the next carbon budget, its dedication to international cooperation ahead of COP26 and ensuring that climate change action is at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery.
“As the CCC rightly notes, 2021 will be a critical year for climate ambition, both domestically and internationally,” state Sharma and Kwarteng.
“Through our COP26 and G7 presidencies, the UK is well-placed to drive international cooperation in the year ahead and we will continue.”
To read the government's full response to the CCC’s Progress Report, click here.