The UK government’s strategy will not lead to reducing emissions by 45% from 2018-2030 despite pledging to the United Nations to do so. New analysis from the UK FIRES consortium in a report released today, Minus 45, shows how it can close the gap.
On 12 December 2020, the UK Government submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC, committing to “at least a 68%” reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2030. However, current government plans will not deliver on its promise. The gap between pledge and delivery could undermine government claims to international leadership at COP26.
The government’s “Net Zero Strategy” released on 19th October 2021 describes big ambitions but small commitments. The total spending commitments in the strategy add up to around 0.05% of GDP and the specific delivery commitments add up to only a small fraction of the government’s pledge to COP26. The strategy places its hope on technologies that don’t yet operate in the UK, while failing to account for the new electricity demand created by its plans for greenhouse gas removal technologies and synthetic jet fuel. It makes no commitments to deliver change by 2030 in key areas such as rail electrification, reducing demand for aviation or reducing ruminant herds.
In contrast, UK FIRES has today released “Minus 45” a new, physically-grounded, analysis of the government’s pledge, based on the respected Absolute Zero report. Only one third of the commitment to reduce emissions can come from electrification supported by the government’s commitment to new generation. The remaining two thirds of the commitment must come from using today’s technologies differently, to reduce UK energy demand by 30%. This is not mentioned in the Net Zero Strategy. Minus 45 shows that real climate mitigation is not a binary choice between unproven technologies and painful behaviour change. We can deliver the required emissions reductions without diminishing our quality of life.
Specific actions that would deliver the government’s commitment include building more efficiently to reduce demand for cement, blast furnace steel and most chemical production by 45%, making better use of trains and software to reduce heavy goods vehicle traffic by 45%, eating more chicken and vegetarian food, to reduce the methane emissions of cows and sheep. The report draws attention to areas of profitable business growth, including building retrofits, rail electrification and expansion, electric material production, overhead electric cables for main roads to electrify HGVs and new growth for domestic manufacturing.
Professor Julian Allwood, director of UK FIRES, says “The government’s 2030 Nationally Determined Commitment to the United Nations is in line with the best evidence about securing a safe climate. To reinforce claims to UK climate leadership, it’s vital that we deliver on it. The government’s Net Zero Strategy will not do this. In contrast, for the first time, our new report, Minus 45, describes a physically realistic plan to meet our pledge. Negative emissions technologies and additional energy supplies cannot be built at scale before 2030, so we need new ways of living well, with less energy. No one will like every aspect of the plan in Minus 45, but it provides an essential reference: if we want less change in one sector, we need more elsewhere.”
Professor Allwood adds “Either we act now to live well but differently with proactive policy and today’s technologies, or we will only be able to meet the government’s commitment to COP26 with energy austerity.”
- Net Zero Strategy will deliver only small fraction of UK commitment to COP26
- Net Zero Strategy talks about big ambitions but makes small commitments
- Net Zero Strategy places all climate hope on new technology
- Net Zero Strategy mentions hydrogen 501 times in 368 pages, but UK today has no emissions free hydrogen production.
- Net Zero Strategy anticipates emissions-free electricity generation will more than double from 2030 to 2035 but has no plan to deliver.
- Net Zero Strategy makes no commitments on rail electrification, reducing demand for aviation or reducing ruminant herds.
- Total government spending in Net Zero Strategy is 0.05% of GDP – not enough.
- Minus 45 analysis says no time left to build large carbon capture and storage, hydrogen or additional nuclear power stations by 2030
- Minus 45 reveals that UK must reduce total energy use by 30% by 2030 to meet government commitment to UN
- Minus 45 reveals opportunities for UK business growth as emitting activities close
- COP26 is the 26th Conference of the Parties, the major international meeting empowered under the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)
- The Paris Agreement, agreed at COP21 in 2015, requires that every five years, each country submits a commitment to a Nationally Determined Contribution at a specified future date, with each successive contribution required to be increasingly ambitious.
- UK FIRES is a 6-university inter-disciplinary research consortium, supported by £5m of UKRI funding and a subscribing Industrial Consortium. It is led by Professor Julian Allwood, Professor of Engineering and the Environment at the University of Cambridge.
- Absolute Zero, published by UK FIRES in December 2019, is the first physically grounded description of the delivery of zero emissions in the UK by 2050, using only technologies that are already widely commercially available. It was the subject of a full debate in the House of Lords on 6th February 2020 and has received wide attention.
- Minus 45 analyses six sectors spanning the UK’s current emissions: energy supply, industry, Transport, Space and water heating, Agriculture and Waste. For each sector, the report projects the physical outcomes of current policy, recommends additional physical changes in order to meet the 2030 emissions commitment, and proposes policy mechanisms to bring them about.