UK is “Average” on Climate Change and Clean Energy



Professionals have said claims that the UK is “ahead of the pack” in regards to climate change and clean energy are not true. A report published by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) suggests the UK is behind some other EU member states in the fight against climate change. The ECIU report focuses on a number of measures needed for building a clean, energy secure, low carbon economy.

Richard Black, Director of ECIU, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s record is about average compared with other EU member states – we’re ahead of the pack on some measures, and behind in others.

“For example, we’re the fourth most advanced country in Europe in terms of how much renewable energy capacity we’ve installed per person in recent years, but only 21st of 28 countries if you look at the total amount we have on a per capita basis.

“The meme of UK exceptionalism is raising its head in the context of the Fifth Carbon Budget, with suggestions that we should reduce the pace of decarbonisation as we’re somehow ahead of our neighbours; but when you look across the piece, we’re not ahead, so the argument should logically go away.”

ECIU compared EU countries on a ‘basket’ of seven measures of progress towards a clean energy economy. Reliance on any single measure – for example, per-capita emissions – does not provide an accurate indication of progress, as it can be hugely skewed by either historical or current factors.

The report finds that:

– The UK is broadly average across four of the chosen metrics, namely per capita carbon emissions, recent annual percentage per capita decrease in emissions in recent years (2009-2014), carbon intensity, and percentage of low-carbon energy in total energy use

– The UK performs badly on renewable energy per-capita compared with comparable large economies (UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain) and with the entire 28 European Union countries (EU28), coming last out of that ‘Big Five’ and 21st overall

– The UK performs well on recent increases in per capita renewable energy capacity (2009-2014), coming second out of the ‘Big Five’ and fourth out of the EU28. It is also first of the Big Five in emission reductions since 1990, but only 8th overall.

The UK is also distinctly average on energy efficiency, although this was not included in the ‘basket’ of seven measures as it is difficult to derive a single value to represent efficiency across various sectors.

The entire EU28 shares the same long-term goal – a reduction of emissions by 80-95%, from a 1990 baseline, by 2050. Because this goal applies to all EU nations, it was not included in the analysis.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, ECIU’s Energy Analyst and an author on the report, said: “Each EU country has a different history – for example, France with its big nuclear sector, the UK with its ‘dash for gas’, the Baltic States emerging from the Soviet Union – so comparing their progress on a single measure can be really misleading.

“All are aiming in the same direction however, namely an efficient, clean, secure energy economy; and to get there by 2050 requires progress on a range of different measures.

“We think this ‘basket’ approach that we’re using here is the basis for a much more realistic comparison. On this basis, the UK is ahead on some measures and behind on others – overall, it’s about average.”

Twenty Conservative MPs recently called on David Cameron to adopt the CCC’s recommendation on the fifth carbon budget with no caveats, arguing that acceptance will cut the costs of decarbonisation and encourage businesses to invest in low-carbon infrastructure. However, 15 other MPs including 12 Conservatives have argued against its adoption ahead of agreement by European member states on ‘burden sharing’ of an EU-wide 2030 emissions reductions target.

Richard Benyon, Conservative MP for Newbury who sits on ECIU’s Advisory Board, said: “EU member states are all working towards the same long term goal, of cutting carbon emissions and building a low-carbon economy. This report shows that when you look at overall progress towards this ambition, the UK is far from being ‘ahead of the pack’ as some people claim that we are. 

“In Britain, however, we benefit from carbon budgets, set by the Committee on Climate Change, which help successive governments work towards that goal in the most cost effective way possible. 

“Early and full acceptance of the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation on the fifth carbon budget, with no caveats, will give investors the confidence to invest in the low-carbon infrastructure we need, and so maintain this government’s excellent record of lower emissions combined with sustained economic growth.” 


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