A report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) urges the Government to take more action to deal with climate change. Although for over a quarter of a century the UK has witnessed falling greenhouse gas emissions alongside rising GDP, most of the success in reducing emissions to date comes from sharp reductions in the power and waste sectors. Despite improvements in technology, emissions in the transport and building sectors are rising and the abandonment of existing plans for carbon capture and storage leaves industry without a long-term strategy. There have been improvements in a range of energy efficiency measures, including more efficient appliances and boilers, as well as insulation. The reduction and recycling of waste has reduced the need for new landfill.
The impact of air pollution from vehicles requires action. A decisive shift to electric vehicles will both improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Support is needed for new and emerging technologies. Investors, business leaders and the public have been waiting too long for clear direction from central government. It must cover each sector of the economy including plans to bring forward about 80-100 terawatt hours (TWh) more low-carbon generation by 2030, with measures to increase the flexibility of the power system to respond to changes in the supply of and demand for electricity. It must accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles, provide a path for the uptake of low-carbon heat alongside energy efficiency, perhaps using hydrogen. Work on carbon capture and storage must also be re-started.
The programme will include the use of carbon pricing, standards and regulations, research and development funding, subsidies, market design and taxation. The role of soils, forestry and agriculture needs to be central to any strategy to reduce emissions over the longer term. Government policy must also help to reinforce much wider actions. Private funds are needed from pension, insurance and banking intermediaries. There must be behavioural change, how much and what we drive, how we heat our homes, and the food we eat.
Fuel Cell Power points out that the main reductions in CO2 emissions were caused by the change from using coal to natural gas in the 1990s and the change from an industrial to a service economy. British engineers developing electric vehicles powered by batteries and fuel cells are only supported if they have a partner from the established industry which may not want competitors in their market. There has also been no backing for the potentially cheaper alkaline fuel cell. Battery and fuel cell powered electric vehicles could provide zero emission transport, as well as helping to balance the loads from intermittent renewable energy. Renewable hydrogen is being stored to provide heat and power when they are needed in buildings and industry. Hydrogen fuel cells are also powering zero emission buses in London and work on the first ethanol fuel cell taxi is underway. Unlike boilers, fuel cells generate electricity and heat on site with zero emissions if powered by renewable energy. If natural gas or biofuels from waste are utilised, the electrochemical process separates the CO2 which can then be recycled.