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UK emissions must fall by 78% by 2035, says CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget

Polluting emissions in the UK must fall by 78% by 2035, according to the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) first-ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation, with BECCS, energy crops, and biogas playing a key role.

The Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037) charts the ‘decisive move’ to zero carbon for the UK. The CCC shows that polluting emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels – just 18 months ago this was the UK’s 2050 goal.

The 1,000-page report outlines the various ways the UK can achieve this ambitious goal, with bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), energy crops, bio-LPG, landfill-derived biomethane, and anaerobic digestion at wastewater treatment plants all highlighted.

In 2018, the UK became the first major economy to make net-zero emissions law. In its new 1,000-page report, the CCC sets out the path to that goal over the next 30 years, including the first-ever detailed assessment of the changes that will result, and the key milestones that must be met.

According to the CCC, to deliver the Sixth Carbon Budget, a major investment programme across the country must be delivered, in large part by the private sector. That investment will also support the UK’s economic recovery. In many areas, this gives people real savings, as the nation uses fewer resources and adopts cleaner, more-efficient technologies, like electric cars, to replace their fossil-fuelled predecessors.

“The Sixth Carbon Budget is a clear message to the world that the UK is open for low-carbon business,” said CCC chairman, Lord Deben. “It’s ambitious, realistic, and affordable.

“This is the right carbon budget for the UK at the right time. We deliver our recommendations to government with genuine enthusiasm, knowing that Britain’s decisive zero-carbon transition brings real benefits to our people and our businesses while making the fundamental changes necessary to protect our planet.

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jumpstart the UK’s economic recovery. Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as president of the next UN climate talks.”

The CCC recommends to the UK Government that by the early 2030s, every new car and van and every replacement boiler must be zero-carbon; by 2035, all UK electricity production will be zero carbon. Modern low-carbon industries will grow, producing hydrogen, capturing carbon, creating new woodlands, renovating and decarbonising the UK’s 28 million homes.

The Sixth Carbon Budget can be met through four steps:

  • Take-up of low-carbon solutions, including a shift to using renewable electricity or hydrogen in place of fossil fuels, or capturing carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea

  • Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies – the UK’s electricity production is zero-carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the ‘backbone’ of the UK energy system, growing from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promised 40 GW in 2030 to 100 GW+ by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scaled-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings as a replacement for natural gas.

  • Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities – The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings save energy through a national programme to improve insulation nationwide. Diets change, reducing consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030. Fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly.

  • Land and greenhouse gas (GHG) removals – There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13% of UK land today to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.


Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of the Association of Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said: “The headline from the Sixth Carbon Budget will be the 78% reduction in GHG emissions being brought forward by 15 years, and that this can be achieved while supporting green jobs growth and an economic recovery.

“There are many additional and welcome elements within the report – the support for a range of bioenergy technologies and energy crops; the doubling of electricity generation which will all be low-carbon; and the restoration of peat landscapes and new woodland, are particular highlights.

“We do believe more needs to be done with regards to the aviation sector and the heavy goods vehicle market for road transport. The plans to transition to low-carbon alternatives by 2050 and 2040, respectively, are too conservative to have a significant impact. We know that the capex and opex savings will balance out any short-term cost if there is the ambition to take action sooner.

“Nevertheless, this Carbon Budget does provide a basis from which the government can look to build their carbon reduction agenda. If we start reducing emissions today rather than tomorrow, we will have a far greater chance of avoiding global temperature rises and tackling climate change.”

BECCS

The report highlights the potential of BECCS for low-carbon electricity generation, noting that gas CCS and BECCS plants are expected to be able to deliver ‘relatively flexible’ low-carbon output, at medium cost.

The report suggests the UK is well placed to deploy CCS and BECCS plants, given the CO2 storage potential in the North Sea and other areas, and that although gas CCS and BECCS are projected to be more expensive than renewables, they could bring value to a system ‘dominated’ by variable generation.

In all five of the scenarios set out within the CCC’s report, advice includes BECCS, demonstrating its potential to help the UK reach net-zero.

Once running at scale, Drax Group’s BECCS project could capture up to 16 MtCO2/year of negative emissions. The company is working with businesses including National Grid, Equinor, and SSE to bring BECCS, CCUS, and hydrogen together in the UK’s Humber region.

Will Gardiner, Drax CEO, said: “The government’s new 68% NDC commitment last week, alongside this report, reinforce how net-zero will only be achievable through negative emissions and sustainable BECCS in the UK.

“This world-leading technology can showcase the UK’s global leadership in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow next year.”

Biogas

In the ‘Waste’ section of the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget, biomethane is highlighted as an option for emissions reduction in the sector. Increased landfill methane capture is frequently mentioned, suggesting that via a dispersed network of pipes inserted into the landfill, landfill gas can be collected in a central location for use in generating heat, power, or biomethane for gas grid injection.

Opportunities for extracting biogas during the wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are also included. These measures involve the conversion of WWTPs to advanced anaerobic digestion systems.

Sophia Haywood, director public affairs at Liquid Gas UK, said it is “vital” that a mixed approach is taken, using a range of clean fuels such as bio-LPG and hybrid heat pumps, to decarbonise homes and businesses.

“It is great to see that today’s report recognises this and rightly recommends that bio-LPG has a crucial role in decarbonising off-grid homes, setting out an ambitious plan that, starting from the mid-2020s, we would see the role of bio-LPG increasing and subsequently supported through government policy.”

  • Keep an eye on our website for further analysis and reactions from the bioenergy industry. We will be including a full report in our January/February 2021 edition.





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