The Climate Change Act and its ten-year anniversary have been centre stage of UK government developments this week. Former Labour leader and the first Energy and Climate Change minister Ed Milliband, as well as current Clean Growth Claire Perry from the Conservative party, joined the Committee on Climate Change’s Chris Stark and the Liberal Democrat’s Lynne Featherstone to discuss the future of decarbonisation policy. There was strong consensus on stronger ambition required, such as bringing forward the 2040 car and van ban and new low-carbon homes standards, and cross-party praise for Perry’s track record so far. However, some disagreements over fracking and the Heathrow third runway were visible, and Mr Stark made some pointed comments on injecting new enthusiasm into climate change policy, ahead of the Committee’s annual report this week. Ed Milliband is also set to push for a 2050 net zero emissions target before the next UNFCCC conference.
The UK offshore wind industry had positive news against this backdrop, with the UK still top of the global league table, with a 35.2GW investment portfolio, and exporting goods and services to 44 other countries and 434 projects. This not only cements the UK as the world leader, but also puts the country on course for 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, the current aspiration of the industry. Germany came second with 23.4GW, with other European neighbours such as the Netherlands and France coming in at 5GW and 3GW, respectively.
This was in contrast to the solar industry growth, which halved for the second year running. The UK number caused the EU numbers to flatline, and was the slowest growth in the top 20 markets. Total solar installation in 2017 was 0.95GW, down from 1.97GW in 2016 and 4.1GW in 2015.
At the European level, the UK joined France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and other countries around the world in pushing for an increase in ambition from the Paris emissions pledge.
Elsewhere in Europe, Germany has played down rhetoric on decarbonisation, saying that the employment conditions of workers in the coal and auto industries must come first. Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the comments to energy ministers at the Petersburg Climate Dialogue, stating “Changes are going to happen, but we are thinking of you first, and not of the CO2 emissions first.” The rhetoric may dismay European environmental campaigners, especially as Germany is still due to miss its 2020 climate target by a wide margin.
In Eastern Europe, Brexit is likely to have the knock-on impact of reducing funding for clean energy projects. The Czech Republic has warned its funds for green infrastructure will drop from €23bn (£20bn) to €17bn (£15bn), and Bulgaria has also cautioned the need to long term infrastructure stability.
Less concerned about clean energy, Poland’s recent bid against amendments to the EU wide Emissions Trading Scheme was thrown out by the European Court of Justice. The Court dismissed Poland’s arguments that the reforms would increase natural gas usage 700% and radically change Poland’s energy sector, stating that part of the treaty on being an EU member state involves an obligation to protect the environment and mitigate climate change.
With the ‘Road to Zero’ under development, fallout from Heathrow expansion and the Committee on Climate Change’s review out in days, this week has potentially been the calm before the storm. Encouraging offshore wind progress has balanced out very slow solar growth. Further afield, this week has seen other European countries advocate stronger international action, yet struggling with emissions policies domestically.
Policy Exchange, Business Green, Climate Home, EurActiv, Edie, Carbon Brief, ReNews, Utility Week, Renewable UK