The UK would need a more ambitious policy package if it wanted to decarbonise its energy system in line with 2050 emission reduction targets, a study has concluded.
According to University College London researchers, the UK should think twice about extracting more fossil fuel from the ground and instead provide sustained support for the development of renewable resources, including onshore and offshore wind and solar.
The recommendations, part of the Deep Decarbonisation Pathway Project (DDPP), contrast with the policy of the current Conservative UK government, which has been pushing for shale gas extraction while simultaneously cutting subsidies for renewable schemes.
The UCL study considers all emission-generating sectors and analyses pathways that could lead to the decarbonisation needed in order to keep the temperature rise below the critical 2°C threshold.
"Without a sustained and strong policy push that increases year on year in ambition, the delivery of low-carbon technologies at the necessary scale will not be achieved,” said Steve Pye, the lead author of the study.
“Carbon emissions need to halve by 2030 to 4t CO2 per capita and reduce to less than 1t CO2 per capita by 2050. For this, the UK needs policies now that realise the full low-cost energy-efficiency potential in buildings, ensure the rapid deployment of low-carbon generation technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), and prepare for the roll-out of low emissions vehicles in the transport sector and alternative, non gas-based heating systems for homes."
The report states the power sector would have to decarbonise by 85 to 90 per cent by 2030, if the targets are to be met. This particular step is critical for increasing low-carbon electricity provision in the transport and buildings sectors, which is estimated to double between now and 2050.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS), when cost-effective and available at scale, needs to play a central role in both power generation and industrial sectors, while the direct use of fossil fuels in end-use sectors needs to decrease by more than 70 per cent by 2050.
The modelling used to explore different pathways shows that a move to low-carbon energy sources requires a strong reduction in the supply of conventional fossil fuels, particularly in oil used for transport and gas used for heating buildings. In the long term, the continued use of gas in electricity and other industries will be strongly dependent on the availability of CCS.
"Despite the 2050 target already being challenging, the UK may need to be even more ambitious with actions taken prior to 2050, as evidence shows that a net zero emissions global energy system is likely to be required by the 2070s to limit global warming,” Pye added. Both near and long-term investments need to take into account the transition required after 2050."
The report states the authorities should be careful when planning further fossil fuel extraction as well as new airport capacity.
The Deep Decarbonization Pathway Project (DDPP) is coordinated by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) set by the United Nations Secretary General.
The findings will feed into the final DDPP report which includes research from 16 countries that account for 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is scheduled for publication in September 2015.
"The UCL team did a fantastic job,” said Teresa Ribera, Director of IDDRI. “Their study on decarbonisation pathways for the UK is the first on a long series of DDPP country reports. These reports which were done by recognized experts in each country with a common and transparent methodology show that each country has its own pathways but that decarbonisation is feasible in each context and that it is compatible with development and economic growth.”
In December this year, the world’s nations will meet in Paris to renegotiate the global climate deal needed to mitigate the progressive warming of the planet.