June 11th, 2019 by Joshua S Hill
The United Kingdom has made “major progress” in reducing its energy-related CO2 emissions and introducing energy policies and reforms which aim to promote sector decarbonization and innovation in clean energy technology, says the International Energy Agency, but adds that the UK must now continue its global climate leadership.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) published its latest in-depth review of the United Kingdom’s energy policies last week, highlighting the country’s track record in climate action, both home and abroad.
“The United Kingdom has shown real results in terms of boosting investment in renewables, reducing emissions and maintaining energy security,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “It now faces the challenge of continuing its transition while ensuring the resilience of its energy system.”
Specifically, energy-related CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom fell to their lowest levels since 1888 during 2017, thanks in large part to “significant renewable investment” stemming from the country’s Electricity Market Reform. Looking forward, the IEA expects the UK’s share of renewable electricity to pass the 50% mark by 2030, with high levels of wind and solar.
“This report highlights our reputation as a world leader in the global shift to greener, cleaner economies, cutting emissions by more than 40% since 1990 while growing our economy,” said Chris Skidmore, the UK Energy and Clean Growth Minister. “We can be proud of dramatically decarbonising our energy system thanks to record levels of investment in renewables, while security of supply has never been in doubt. But we’re not complacent and we’re now on a path to become the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions to end our contribution to global warming entirely.”
It’s worth noting, however, that the IEA’s review of the UK’s energy policies was released at the same time as Members of Parliament called on the country’s UK Export Finance (UKEF) — the operating name of the Export Credits Guarantee Department, the United Kingdom’s export credit agency and a ministerial department of the UK government — to cease funding fossil fuel projects in low- and middle-income countries.
“Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will mean ending our addiction to dirty fossil fuels,” said Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh. “The Government claims that the UK is a world leader on tackling climate change, but behind the scenes, the UK’s export finance schemes are handing out billions of pounds of taxpayers money to develop fossil fuel projects in poorer countries. This locks them into dependency on high carbon energy for decades to come.
“This is unacceptable. It is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is and end UK Export Finance’s support for fossil fuels.”
The dichotomy between what the IEA sees, then, and what the UK’s own Parliamentarians see is striking, although the achievements made cannot be underestimated, especially when you consider the meteoric descent of coal in the country’s energy mix, most recently highlighted by its historic 18-day run without generating any electricity from coal (which we covered when the record was only at a fortnight).
Outside of the UK’s energy sector, however, there is still work to be done, according to the IEA’s review. Continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will require a scaling up of clean energy investment in the transport and heating sectors — although, this is already a major focus of the UK Government’s Clean Growth Strategy. Further, if the ill-fated “Brexit” ends up happening, the UK must ensure that open and efficient energy trade relations remain open to “safeguard existing security and flexibility” across the UK’s energy system.
“The United Kingdom is a strong partner for the IEA and its Member and Association countries in energy technology collaboration,” concluded Dr Birol. “The government’s efforts are an inspiration for many countries who seek to design effective decarbonisation frameworks.”