UK to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

By Erin Voegele | June 13, 2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced June 12 that the U.K. Parliament has introduced legislation that will mandate the country achieves net-zero emissions by 2050. Bioenergy is expected to help reach that goal.

According to U.K. government, the legislation will mean the U.K. is on track to become the first G7 country to legislate for net zero emissions. Other major economies, however, are expected to follow suit. For that reason, the U.K. said it will conduct a further assessment within five years to confirm that other countries are taking similar actions, ensuring U.K. industries do not face unfair competition.

“As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change,” May said. “We have made huge progress in growing our economy and the jobs market while slashing emissions.”

“We want to continue our global leadership and that’s why we are introducing a legally binding net zero target to end the U.K.’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050,” added Greg Clark, secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. “The report we commissioned from the Committee on Climate Change makes clear that we have laid the foundations to achieve a net zero emissions economy, and that it is necessary and feasible.”

The U.K. Committee on Climate Change published a report May 2 that recommended the government set a goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At that time, both Drax Group and the U.K. Renewable Energy association stressed that bioenergy can help meet that goal.

Following May’s announcement, CCC Chairman Lord Deben said the committee “will now move to the task for providing advice on the detailed path to net zero,” adding that the CCC’s statutory advice to government on the U.K.’s carbon budgets to 2037 is due next year.

“A net-zero economy is vital if we are to avert the climate crisis,” said Drax CEO Will Gardiner in a statement responding to May’s announcement. “By upscaling the successful biomass with carbon capture and storage pilot at Drax and developing the world’s first negative emissions power station we can deliver for the climate and the economy—well ahead of the Government’s 2050 target.”

Drax’s pilot carbon capture project is currently capturing 1 metric ton per day of carbon dioxide. Once scaled up, the company estimates it could capture 40,000 metric tons per day of carbon from its four biomass generating units—a 90 percent capture rate.

Coinciding with May’s net-zero announcement, U.K.-based charity group Business in the Community said it has launched a net zero carbon taskforce chaired by Jonathan Kini, CEO of Drax Group’s B2B energy supply business. The taskforce aims to ensure companies across the U.K. can play a greater role in combatting climate change. Its initial focus will be on developing a toolkit for business action in operations and across value chains creating a roadmap for the business contribution to the transition to net-zero emissions.

The REA issued a statement welcoming May’s announcement. “Being the first G7 nation to adopt net zero greenhouse gases emissions target by 2050 is a historic step not only for our industry but for the U.K. as a whole,” said Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the REA. “This decision demonstrates that government is listening to both the scientific evidence regarding climate change and to the tens of thousands of school children and members of the public who have taken to the streets in recent months.

“In their net-zero recommendations, the Committee on Climate Change rightly identified that the variety and sophistication of renewable technologies needed to reach net-zero already exist,” she continued. “What is needed now is clear and consistent policy that will allow for a route to market for renewable and clean technologies that will attract investors.

“From battery storage to biogas, our industry is ready to work with Government so that this transition benefits households and businesses across the country,” Skorupska said.