Is the UK backtracking on its climate targets?

The rise in worldly emissions obtained a new height in 2022, despite record growth in renewable energy production.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) described the UK’s current climate efforts as ‘worryingly slow’. The CCC warned that the government is less confident in reaching its target than a year ago, due to a trend of lower performance in net-zero commitments.

The UK can cut two-fifths of the emissions projected for the next decade, but they’ve just covered one-fifth, with only nine out of 50 key indicators on track. Zac Goldsmith, previous International environmental minister who resigned in July, described the government as uninterested in the environment, he said: “I decided to step down and it has been a long time coming. When I compare what I and my amazing team were able to do before the current PM took office with the slow progress today, it seems to me I can no longer justify being in government.” Slow progress makes meeting targets
more challenging, and a slight deflection off tangents can widen the biases.

UK Backs new oil projects

​Increasing oil and gas projects is a prick on net zero, with the UK speeding up five novel ones to address high energy bills, the government dismissed the Labour Party’s plan to stop licensing oil-and-gas projects.

​Instead of compromising on decarbonisation, increasing sustainable energy projects is a way to lower energy costs which will further enhance clean energy transition, create more green jobs, and ensure energy security. IRENA reported that an increase in coal and fossil gas prices, in 2021-2022, made fossil fuels lose their competitive edge, attracting more interest in solar and wind energy.

Utility-scale solar PV becomes starkly competitive over fuel and CO2 costs in Europe

The New Cumbria Coal Mine

​Its been 30 years since the UK last approved a coal mine. So why the need when coal is deemed almost unnecessary? The bulk of the coal will be channelled towards exports, as UK steelmakers have shifted from using coal, a vast majority of them now adopt electric arc furnaces and renewable energy. Where the coal will be exported to is currently uncertain because the government has not yet cited a potential market.

​The coal mine is considered a great environmental threat, emitting around 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases yearly, equivalent to adding 200,000 cars to the road in the UK. The government said the mine is possible within the provision of the UK climate legislation, since it aims at reaching net zero by 2050. Therefore, the planning inspectorate considered it a neutral effect on climate change.

People demonstrating against a proposed coal mine in Cumbria

Heat Pumps shortage amidst Airports Expansion

Air travel accounted for 7 percent of UK emissions in 2022 and while many airports’ capacities are off
track with national net-zero targets, eight out of ten plan to expand according to the Financial Times. This comes after the CCC warned that the UK can no longer expand any of its airports without closures or shrinking of capacity elsewhere, but the government seems to have brushed this aside.

​The plan to install 600,000 heat pumps annually across the UK is growing cold. Households are reluctant to pick up a £5,000 aid to switch from gas boilers to heat pumps.

The low progress is tied to the government’s concern over how effective heat pumps are and even with a £5,000 grant, households still cover the upfront expense of installing the pump. A similar cost of a new boiler and can be overwhelming for households to bear.

However, a survey by Nesta found that more than 80 percent of heat pump users are satisfied with the pump while the waiting list consists of 50,000 households all interested in installing them. It’s unclear if citizens are uninterested in heat pumps, or it’s the government provision that’s inadequate.

Beyond the UK, rising emissions eclipse global renewable energy.

The rise in worldly emissions obtained a new height in 2022, despite record growth in renewable energy production. The report by Energy Institute, KPMG, and Kearney consultancy found that greenhouse gas emissions rose by 0.8 percent, as fossil fuels covered 82 percent of total energy consumption and renewable energy sources met just 7.5 percent of world energy demand. This beckons an urgent need to hasten green energy transition as we are heading in the opposite direction to the 2030 targets. 

​In the UK, emissions from oil increased as road traffic returned to pre-pandemic rates while air travel doubled compared to the previous year. In 2022, CO2 emissions in the transport sector saw a 3.8 percent (4.2 Mt) increase from 2021, contributing to 34 percent of the country’s total CO2 emissions in 2022.

Will Electric Vehicles help?

Electric vehicles assembled at a charging station

​Many challenges lurk around electric vehicles, and it’s not just the cost. The major issue is scale.

EVs have high power loads that require prolonged charging and electrifying the entire UK vehicle fleet could double national power usage. This will peak energy demand and disrupt the power grid. Meanwhile, public charging in the UK is higher than expected, and the government has admitted that emissions from transport will get higher, according to the CCCs report.

President of COP26, Alok Sharma, said that the UK could be at risk of losing its international reputation and influence on climate.