Tackling climate change needs more resources

27 Oct 17

The government needs to invest in renewable energy and have clearer goals to tackle climate change, says WWF's head of energy and climate Gareth Redmond-King.

It’s been a long time coming, but the government’s Clean Growth Strategy is finally here.  

It’s the UK’s plan for delivering the carbon emissions reductions necessary to hit the 2008 Climate Change Act targets.  

With various policy and funding frameworks coming to an end, it was conspicuous by its absence for over a year.  So, is it up to the job?

Well, it’s not bad – leadership and politics have aligned to offer something better than we might have expected.  

Climate change minister Claire Perry and BEIS secretary of state Greg Clarke are passionate advocates of climate action; their leadership is evident in the strategy’s tone, language and ambition.  

They’ve been helped by being in a minority government, led by a party mindful that millennials are voting Labour, not Tory; as well as no longer having a very powerful, apparently climate-action-sceptic, Number 10 political adviser stripping out their ambition.

WWF argue strongly that energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and fastest way to cut emissions and that, with buildings emissions rising, we need a target to get all UK homes to a decent standard, cutting energy waste.  

So we were very pleased to see just such a commitment in the strategy.  

There’s also a very welcome commitment to auctions for the remaining half a billion pounds allocated to contracts for difference (CfDs) to buy new offshore wind in the 2020s.  

Alongside these are commitments to consult and develop proposals around other aspects of energy efficiency and transport electrification.  

But what’s lacking is detail.  

BEIS recognise this in modelling the strategy’s impacts, admitting they can only calculate likely emissions reductions from around 30% of proposals.  

This, as it stands, leaves us nearly 10% adrift of carbon budgets by 2032.  

This is relatively unlikely, if they deliver on vaguer and further-in-the-future proposals.  

But it feels uncomfortable still to be without clear, timed and costed plans to deliver quantifiable carbon emissions over the next decade.  

So we must look now to all of those consultations and further policy documents promised.  But we look first to this autumn’s Budget.  

Climate change has a cost/benefit calculation at its heart – paying for action now to avoid bigger costs from loss, damage and adaptation in the future.  

The ‘levy control framework’ has been part of this balance in the UK: a cost on energy bills to subsidise emissions reduction.

These levies have, though, as the Committee on Climate Change has shown, cut our energy bills – by over £100 since 2008.  

Subsidies have also delivered dramatic cost reductions in renewable technologies.  

Offshore wind, for example, has fallen from a 2014/15 price of £155 per megawatt hour (MWh), via 2015 contracts awarded at £117/MWh, to an astonishing £57.50/MWh for offshore wind which will generate in 2022/23.  This makes it not just considerably cheaper than new nuclear, but competitive with new gas generation.

This cost/benefit judgement will be crucial for Philip Hammond in a few weeks’ time.  

Further government investment – in electricity, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and energy efficiency in buildings – will not only save us money on our energy bills, but it will save the exchequer the costs of climate change, air pollution and poor quality housing.  

It also creates jobs and supports growth – with the low-carbon sector employing half a million people and generating tens of billions of pounds turnover.

So, we’ll be looking for the financial detail underpinning the broad-brush ambition in the strategy – the investment to avoid the costs of climate change.

In particular, we must double what we spend on ‘ECO’, the programme supporting energy efficiency retrofit of homes.  We can do that using capital funds by designating housing as a national infrastructure priority.  

We need to see the levy control framework (LCF) replaced or extended to support clean energy through the 2020s.  

It would be nice to hear about support for small-scale renewables via the feed-in tariffs – ending in 2019.  It would also be very welcome to hear about LCF support for the cheapest forms of power generation – solar and onshore wind.

The devil’s in the detail – also the money.

Let’s see if that leadership and politics also support ambitious investment to tackle climate change and save us all much bigger costs in the long-run.  

Did you enjoy this article?