UK decarbonisation
The UK capital London at dawn - Image credit: Pierre Blaché, Pexels

The UK government’s “narrow approach” to climate change, focused on expanding renewables and phasing out coal, will not cut nearly enough carbon to meet the UK’s net-zero goal says a new report says think tank Green Alliance.

According to the report:

Reducing energy demand must be central to UK energy policy to cut carbon at the scale necessary. 

Far from being a ‘hair shirt’ approach, this will benefit people and businesses financially, improve public health, and create an economy fit for the future.

Sectors like transport, buildings and industry are way behind on having effective carbon-cutting strategies. Combined, this will mean that Britain’s on course to deliver about 10% of the emissions savings they need to over the next 12 years.

Focusing only on energy supply in key sectors like transport, building and industry ignore the significant impact of high demand, not only on carbon emissions but also on everyday lives.

For example:

  • Transport has the highest carbon emissions of any sector, but the current policy is only guaranteed to deliver about 9% of the reduction needed by 2032. A policy that prioritises active travel, like walking and cycling, and public transport and shared mobility would reduce energy demand and also save the national health service £2.5 billion a year – nearly 2% of its budget – by reducing the cost of tackling health problems like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, caused by inactive lifestyles.
     
  • Building energy efficiency policies have stalled in the UK and policy has too often ignored improvements needed to existing buildings. Along with new incentives for those who are able to pay for improvements, an additional £1 billion per year to 2035 could upgrade the low-income households that need it. This could also help to prevent the estimated 10,000 early deaths caused by cold homes each year.
     
  • Industry policies largely ignore the potential of greater resource efficiency to cut energy use and therefore carbon emissions. Resource efficiency could lead to carbon savings three to four times greater than those envisaged for energy efficiency by 2050. Changing how UK manufacturing businesses use resources could also raise profit margins by as much as £10 billion across the sector.

Based on research by CREDS, a collaboration of leading academics across 15 UK universities, the study concludes that all government departments should work on three fronts now to address energy demand:

  • Avoid unnecessary energy use. This would include reducing dependence on cars and introducing new infrastructure or business models that reduce the need for materials and products, including services that replace ownership of cars or appliances.
     
  • Improve technical energy efficiency. Technical solutions already exist to reduce energy waste and loss by buildings, transport and products. These include better insulation and sensor controls in buildings so they need less heating or cooling and industrial processes that minimise energy use and use fewer resources to make the same products.
     
  • Flex energy demand. Aligning demand better with supply, for instance by introducing new ‘time of use’ tariffs, would make the most of intermittent renewable energy sources and reduce the need for fossil fuel back up supply.

Professor Nick Eyre, CREDS director, said, “Going to the effort of decarbonising all of the energy we currently use is not a sensible strategy to bring about a sustainable energy system unless we also take steps to cut demand. This needs to be a dominant part of the energy system change.”

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said, “The government’s approach to energy is self-defeating. It ignores half of the equation and denies people considerable benefits. Not only would reducing demand help to reach carbon reduction targets earlier it would also reduce infrastructure costs and benefit everyone – through cleaner air, more comfortable homes and healthier lives.”