LABELLED as a strategy that will “scale up affordable, clean, homegrown power” while building “thriving green industries in Britain”, the UK government’s new Powering up Britain plan conversely acknowledges that existing climate policies will not enable the UK to meet its Sixth Carbon Budget.
Contained within one of the strategy’s supporting documents – a sprawling set of around 40 publications amounting to over 2,800-plus pages – the government’s calculations showed they would only deliver 92% of the emission reductions needed to meet the UK’s 2030 goal, rising to 97% in 2037. But it added, the government is confident that the delivery of emissions savings “by unquantified policies detailed in this package will largely close this gap.” It would also bring forward further measures to ensure it will meet its international commitments if required, the report notes.
Still, despite the lengthy manifestos promising to take the UK to the forefront of climate action, an overwhelming consensus agreed that the strategy appeared to be largely a set of existing initiatives repackaged rather than anything dramatically new.
“Most of these points were in the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ strategy of early 2020,” said Matthew Paterson, professor of International and Climate Change Politics, at the University of Manchester.
Furthermore, it appears there are no new funding streams backing up any of the announcements surrounding the strategy.
Despite the backlash, some groups have responded positively to the strategy.
Building on the £20bn (US$24.7bn) CCUS funding announced as part of the Spring Budget earlier this month, the government said it hopes to capture 20-30m t/y of CO2 across the economy by 2030 with a series of CCUS clusters. These are sites that will connect to the carbon dioxide transport and storage infrastructure that will be developed through the initial “Track 1” clusters.
Track 1 clusters have already been unveiled as the East Coast Cluster and HyNet North West, but on Thursday the government did announce the first projects that will progress to the next stage of the negotiations to form those first two clusters. For the East Coast Cluster, these are: Net Zero Teesside Power, bpH2 Teesside, and Teesside Hydrogen CO2 Capture. For HyNet North West they are: Hanson Padeswood Cement Works Carbon Capture and Storage Project; Viridor Runcorn Industrial CCS; Protos Energy Recovery Facility; Buxton Lime Net Zero; and HyNet Hydrogen Production Plant 1 (HPP1).
Ministers said a process to enable expansion of those Track 1 clusters will be launched later this year.
Ruth Herbert, CEO of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), said: “We are pleased to see government pushing ahead with the first carbon capture projects. Collectively, these projects will capture millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and protect and create many thousands of jobs in critical sectors, delivering significant economic growth in two of the UK’s industrial regions. However, today’s announcement will be particularly disappointing for the Humber region which emits more CO2 than any region in the UK. Projects based there urgently need clarity, alongside other unsuccessful projects. Government must therefore set out the process for further projects to be added to the first two clusters.”
The process for confirming the next clusters for deployment in Track 2 will be put in motion on a date that has yet to be disclosed. The government said it is seeking to identify two transport and storage systems that can deliver its objectives for Track 2, and that Scotland’s Acorn and Humberside’s Viking systems are able to meet the Track 2 eligibility criteria.
However, the tight deadline – 28 April – leaves just four weeks for additional new bidders, who must already have the ability to link by pipeline to CO2 sources, and be on a pathway to acquiring a CO2 storage licence, the Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) research group said.
And as promising as the CCUS announcement sounds, the government also said in the strategy that it wants to maximise the vital production of UK oil and gas as the North Sea basin declines, prompting accusations that the big push for CCUS is merely a cover for continued emissions.
“The government is trying to ride a green industrial CCS horse and a black oil and gas stallion simultaneously, making this a long overdue start to carbon clean up, but an incomplete carbon transition,” said Stuart Haszledine, chair of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh.
The first tranche of new green hydrogen production projects under the £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund – a key component of Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution that he championed back in 2020 – was announced.
Fifteen green hydrogen production projects were selected, and the funding, agreed to 2025, will be split between two strands: one for front end engineering design (FEED) studies and post FEED costs; and another for capital expenditure funding for projects that do not require revenue support through the hydrogen business model.
Prashant Ruia, director at Essar Capital, whose Vertex Hydrogen project has been chosen as one of the two hydrogen clusters that would help build the UK’s hydrogen economy, said: “I welcome and thank the UK Government for their support to our investment. This enables us to confidently move forward with our plans…to build a premier energy transition hub in the North West of the UK, anchored around our Stanlow Refinery.”
Essar, an Indian multinational conglomerate, said that its recently launched Essar Energy Transition (EET) will invest US$3.6bn in developing a range of low carbon energy transition projects over the next five years, of which US$2.4bn will be invested at the Stanlow site in Ellesmere Port, between Liverpool and Manchester.
Other measures in the report include “kickstarting” investment into the UK’s emerging floating offshore wind industry by “launching” the £160m fund to support port infrastructure projects. This appears to be the same scheme announced by ministers in October 2021, however the government has not clarified whether the investments are new or part of previous funding announcements.
While any new funding streams appear to be missing, so too was a decision by the government not to lift the 'de facto' ban on new onshore wind farms.
Onshore wind has been effectively banned in England since 2015, and just two onshore wind turbines were erected in England last year, according to industry figures.
Carla Ribeiro, head of offshore wind advisory for UK and Ireland at the consultancy Ramboll, said: “It is good to see the government admit that onshore wind is the cheaper source of clean energy in the UK but, yet again, it has received very little attention.”
Jim Watson, professor of energy policy and director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said: “The government is absolutely right that an energy revolution is required. But... Once again, they appear to be neglecting one of the cheapest forms of low carbon electricity, onshore wind. It is very unclear whether the effective moratorium on this technology will be lifted.”
To push forward the deployment of renewables, ministers used the strategy as a springboard to announce the opening of the fifth round of Contracts for Difference. This is the government’s main mechanism for supporting low-carbon electricity generation by guaranteeing generators a price for electricity. The price is determined by sealed bids at auction so energy producers compete to drive down the price. The successful bidders are then paid a flat rate for the contracted 15 years.
Decarbonising road and air travel was given a mention, by way of a £350m investment in electric vehicle charging points and infrastructure to support the rollout of electric vehicles. This too appears to be a throwback to previous funding announced by the government, which has not clarified how much of the funding is new.
Consultations on a long-term trajectory for sustainable aviation fuel uptake in the UK through a mandate will be introduced from 2025, the strategy said.
Details on the advances made in establishing the “Great British Nuclear (GBN)” programme, another initiative spearheaded as a game changer in reaching net zero, were also scant. First announced in April 2022, but with little progress appearing to have been made since then, the strategy says it’s first priority is to launch a competitive process to select the best small modular reactor technologies. The selection process will commence in April with market engagement as the first phase. A decision on which suitable technologies will be funded, could be made by Autumn.
Finally, a heat pump investment accelerator, plans to make homes more energy-efficient under a new ECO+ scheme called the “Great British Insulation Scheme”, and policies to speeding up the planning process, and attracting finance, also featured within the Powering up Britain strategy.
Considering that the UK was the first major economy to put a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 into law, many have viewed the latest strategy as a missed opportunity in attaining “world-leading status”. Despite some positive aspects, many point out that overall the strategy lacks cohesion, falls short in several areas and doesn’t compete with other major green investment initiatives such as the US’s Inflation Reduction Act.
A report also suggests that environmental campaigners are considering taking the government back to court over its latest energy and climate policy. Ministers have been compelled to publish this revamped net zero strategy by the end of this month, after the High Court concluded last year that the government’s net zero strategy was inadequate and that it breached the Climate Change Act.
Kevin Anderson, professor of Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester offered a withering analysis of the ministers’ plans: “As the apocryphal King Cnut misunderstood the forces behind the tide, so Sunak, Shapps, Hunt and those extolling the virtues of the government’s ‘green’ announcements misunderstand basic physics. The harm from repeatedly stuffing yourself with chocolate is not compensated by eating your greens. Similarly, the government granting licenses for new oil, gas and coal developments is not compensated by expanding renewables, nuclear and other low-carbon tech.”
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