Tuesday, 2 December 2008

CCC sets out carbon budgets

Yesterday saw the release of the first full report from the UK government's Committee on Climate Change, Building a low-carbon economy - the UK's contribution to tackling climate change.

The top line is that the CCC is urging the government to commit to unilaterally reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by at least 21% (relative to 2005 levels) by 2020 (or, if you prefer the classic Kyoto measure, by 34% relative to 1990 levels). That target should increase to 31% (42% from 1990) when (or if) a global emissions-cutting agreement is reached. In the longer-term, we're looking at a 77% reduction (80% from 1990) by 2050.

That's the simple bit. The rest of the 500+ page report is taken up by detailing a series of five-year 'carbon budgets' and considering how those budgets can be met with existing technology and policy changes.

From a cleantech point of view, the key is renewable energy generation. The CCC's findings won't present many surprises. Wind is likely to be the main contributor for the UK, with the inherent irregularity smoothed by new forms of energy storage and load balancing techniques. Solar power will be less important thanks to the UK's high latitude and low yields. The potential for tidal range generation, such as the proposed Severn barrage, depends crucially on economic assumptions and wider environmental impacts - other forms of tidal and wave power are as yet unproven. Biomass also remains questionable. Nuclear has a strong case but considerable concerns, while carbon capture and storage is essential but in need of urgent development.

The report also posits new transport technologies and energy efficiency improvements as vital in achieving the targets - as well, inevitably, as behavioural change.

The overall economic cost of all this is in line with the findings of the earlier Stern report - less than 1% of GDP by 2020 and 1-2% by 2050, a fraction of the potential costs of doing nothing. And for the companies with the right technologies, there's obviously huge opportunities.

The terms of the Committee's appointment means there's no actual proposals or predictions with regards to technology or policies, and certainly no hint of extra support or finance for the domestic cleantech industry. But while there's not much new apart from the proposed carbon budgets, there's plenty of chewy detail if you like that sort of thing.

For more detail, see the executive summary (370KB pdf) or the full report (5.5MB pdf).

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