Renewables are go (terms and conditions apply)

| 16th July 2009
Cliff-top wind turbines
The UK's renewable energy future looks brighter... but there are still holes to fill
The new suite of measures proposed by the Government for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an impressive list... but as the information sinks in green groups have begun to find some holes

The Government's new roadmap for reducing the UK's greenhouse emissions, released yesterday, has met with a reasonably warm reception from green groups.

The core proposal, known as the 'UK Low Carbon Transition Plan', sets out how emissions could be reduced 34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 - an important interim date on the road to a legal 80 per cent cut by 2050.

The lion's share of the reduction would come through decarbonising the power sector, and would involve renewables contributing 31 per cent of electricity generation, and nuclear 8 per cent (down from its current level of 13 per cent).

Modest cuts would also be made in the carbon intensity of businesses (a 1 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2020), and the transport sector would be expected to shave 14 per cent of its greenhouse gas totals, mainly through a transition to electric vehicles, low carbon buses and high speed trains.

The Transition Plan, launched by the Climate Change and Energy department, DECC, was released alongside a document from the Business department (BIS) known as the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy.

The strategy sets aside pots of money to fund the necessary transition, including £120 million to support the offshore wind industry, £60 million for tidal and wave energy, and £10 million for a national roll-out of electric car charging points.

The proposal also includes a £15 million grant to establish a Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, run by the nuclear industry.

In addition to the plans released by DECC and BIS, a third document - 'Low Carbon Transport: A Greener Future' was produced by the Department for Transport.

It sets out plans for the sector to hit its 14 per cent reduction target, which include efforts to replace public sector fleets with low-emission and electric vans, a £30 million programme to incentivise the use of low-carbon buses, and a £5 million scheme to improve cycle facilities at railway stations.

The document pledges action to secure caps on greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and aviation, but sets only a weak cap on the UK aviation industry, with a requirement for the sector to reduce its emissions below 2005 levels by 2050.

Reaction to the proposals was generally enthusiastic. Friends of the Earth described DECC's strategy as 'a significant step towards the creation of a safe, clean and low-carbon future'.

A joint press-release by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust and the RSPB - some sections of which have in the past voiced opposition to growth of wind energy - welcomed the reports and described them as 'long overdue'.

Greenpeace director John Sauven said:
'If this plan becomes a reality, it will create hundreds of thousands of green jobs and make Britain a safe and more prosperous country,' adding that climate change minister Ed Miliband 'appears to be winning important battles in Whitehall'.

Others were more sceptical, however, particularly of the supporting papers produced by BIS and the Department for Transport.

Robin Oakley at Greenpeace described the sums of money set aside in BIS' Industrial Strategy as 'scandalous', and blamed the Treasury for stifling Miliband's plans.

Greenpeace transport campaigner Anita Goldsmith said that the Department for Transport has 'let the side down', describing its new policies as 'weak' and unable to deliver the emissions cuts needed. She said that the Government's domestic policies on vehicle emissions did not square with its lobbying against emissions limits in the European Parliament, adding that the proposed new runway at Heathrow would still 'wreck the Government's chances of meeting climate change targets'.

A continued committment to coal-fired power stations was also singled out as a fly in the Government's low-carbon ointment. The head of the Environmental Audit Committee, Tim Yeo MP, said that the Government had 'ducked the issue', and that replacing coal-fired power stations would lock Britain into a high-carbon future unless the plants were forced to capture nearly all of the carbon they produce. Current proposals require that the power stations capture only 20 per cent of their emissions.

Friends of the Earth was unimpressed with the transport component of the plan, arguing that the policies put forward would not change the way people travel.
'New technology such as greener vehicles will make a big dent in emissions, but it would cut much more carbon if the Government gave people far more alternatives to driving cars,' said the group's executive director, Andy Atkins.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said he was pleased to see farming included in the strategy, but added that the planned cuts were 'incredibly modest', and reflected the Government's 'lack of a long-term strategy for climate friendly farming'.

Opposition to the planned role for nuclear energy in the Government's plans was scant, although pressure group Nuclear Free Local Authorities warned that facilitating the development of new atomic power stations would 'divert attention and resource away from the real solutions to climate change - energy efficiency and renewable energy'.

Its comments come following news that the nuclear industry has repeatedly tried to gain admission to the new International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA), with claims that it is a low-carbon technology.

Opponents maintain that nuclear energy still relies upon a non-renewable fuel source.


More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here