How can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?

2 February 2017


Reported by Anna Fee, NERC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (January-April 2017).

In the second of the 2017 climate seminar series, Clive Maxwell, Director General of Energy Transformation at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, described some of the technologies and initiatives put in place by the UK government to reduce carbon emissions, and some of the challenges we still face in tackling climate change.

The Climate Change Act set the fifth carbon budget last year, capping UK greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to achieve the legally required 80% reduction on 1990 levels, by 2050.

In his talk, Clive reported that one of the challenges facing the UK government was in addressing the efficiency of our buildings. Buildings are responsible for 34% of carbon emissions in the UK. In order for the UK to meet its carbon emission targets, the government’s Climate Change Committee recommended that building emissions fall close to zero by 2050.

Another challenge is decarbonising heat i.e. using heat sources which do not contribute to carbon emissions. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are currently responsible for almost a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Possible alternatives include electrification of the heating system, using heat networks, biogas, or hydrogen fuel. Many of our household appliances could work with the latter alternatives but adaptations would be required. Clive explained that reducing energy costs over the long term is an important priority for the government as 10% of households in England and Wales are in fuel poverty.

'Gas and electricity consumption in the UK has fallen by 32% and 12% respectively in recent years.'

The UK government has made some significant improvements in recent years. The average energy rating for homes in England and Wales has improved. Recently introduced policies, including fitting homes with solid wall insulation and deploying smart meters, have helped reduce demand for electricity and gas. Current existing technologies like solar photovoltaic systems in homes are reducing energy bills and improving air quality.

Dr Chris Hope is Reader in Policy Modelling at Cambridge Judge Business School. His suggestion was to increase the price businesses and industries pay for using coal and other sources responsible for carbon emissions, as outlined in the current UK Carbon Price Floor. Professor Susan Owens, Emeritus Professor of Environment and Policy in the Department of Geography at Cambridge, questioned the social norms surrounding our energy usage and whether social science should have a more prominent role in tackling climate change.

(Banner Image: Jack Haskell via Flickr)