UK urged to make 60% CO2 emissions cut

Government advisors call for coherent long-term planning to avoid dangerous climate change

A leading British advisory body claimed today that the UK must reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 60% by 2050 to play its part in global efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) said long-term policy thinking to address the challenge was needed now. It called for a national sustainable energy agency to be created.

The report marks a significant increase in pressure for long-term climate issues to be addressed by governments. The RCEP's estimate of needed emissions cuts applies as much to other European countries since it is based on a global calculation of the effort needed to stabilise emissions.

Its key elements are that atmospheric CO2 concentrations should not exceed 550 parts per million, and that this should be achieved through a transition to equal per capita emissions rights for all countries by 2050 - the so-called "contraction and convergence" model.

According to the RCEP, achieving a 60% emissions cut is achievable, but still a huge challenge. Fundamentally, it says, it requires a big shift away from fossil fuels for all uses except transport, plus reduced energy demand.

Four scenarios are presented for achieving the targeted emissions reduction. Three assume cutting energy demand of at least one-third by 2050, plus varying contributions of renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels. Only with a halving of demand would a substantial contribution from nuclear power or fossil fuel power stations fitted with CO2 entrapment devices not be needed, it says. And in this case, it notes, "the scale of the cuts might require some reduction or redefinition of living standards"

The least challenging scenario assumes energy consumption stabilised at current levels by 2050 - nevertheless 30% down on a "business as usual" projection. Even this ambition level would require a 20-fold increase in renewables, some 200 offshore wind farms, photovoltaic solar cells on virtually all buildings, and 46 major new power stations, either nuclear or carbon-capture equipped fossil stations.

The body stresses that action needs to start now. It warns that current UK policies will fail to achieve emissions cuts after 2010, and in particular that the government is unprepared for virtually all British nuclear power stations ending their lives by 2020. It calls for a carbon tax to be introduced rather than the forthcoming energy tax (climate change levy), preferably coordinated at EU level.

Follow Up:
RCEP, tel: +44 20 72 73 66 35. See also press release and the full report, "Energy: {The Changing Climate}".

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