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The Fifth Carbon Budget

In 2008, the Climate Change Act was introduced.  This act set out legally binding targets for the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% – in comparison to 1990 levels – by 2050.  This commitment remains in place and unaffected by the recent ‘Brexit’ vote for the UK to leave the European Union.

In order to deliver this target, a series of periodic (every five years) carbon budgets were introduced.  The value of these budgets is to provide a clear progression towards the targets and thus allowing stakeholders to plan accordingly.

In June 2016 the annual report from The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was published.  This report detailed the progress the UK has made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting its carbon targets.  The report showed that emissions are 38% below 1990 levels in 2015. This seems a positive result and one which exceeds the first three carbon budgets.  These reductions are mainly due to changes in the power sector – a reduced rate of coal usage and increased use of nuclear power to generate electricity.  In other areas progress is slow, whilst vehicles have improved in efficiency there has been an increased demand for travel.  There has been little progress in industrial and agriculture sectors and only a token uptake of low carbon technologies in the buildings sector.

The Fifth Carbon Budget was published at the end of June 2016.  The Government establishes a target of 57% cut in emissions rate from 1990 levels by 2030.  The CCC, in its capacity as government advisors, recommended this figure.  On the 19th July the Carbon Budget Order was passed by the House of Lords, making the target legally binding.  This is unaffected by the dissemination of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the forming of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

In order to meet the targets set by the Fifth Carbon Budget the UK will have to cut carbon emissions from power, buildings and transport.  More renewable energy generation will be expected as the grid is ‘decarbonised’ and there will be more reliance on nuclear power.  New technologies such as carbon capture and storage will be introduced.  More applications for on-shore wind and solar power schemes are anticipated with local authorities encouraged to give greater weight to the need for nationwide sustainable energy (with less emphasis on the impact on local communities) during the decision making process.

The budget also predicts an increased use of heat networks to supply heat to homes and commercial buildings, including schools.  A heat network that is powered by biofuels and using insulated hot water pipes would produce fewer emissions than a comparable scenario where each building has its own gas boiler. Heat networks tend to utilise the waste heat produced from generating electricity (Combined Heat and Power) so produce less CO2 emissions than if the fuel source were natural gas. 

Heat networks would require some major infrastructure schemes –i.e. pipes and cables – this may see an increase in Development Consent Orders (DCO).  If planning were in support of such applications a spread of these types of applications would most likely be seen, it may be that developers cite the Fifth Carbon Budget when making their applications.  It is expected that improving insulation, a greater uptake of, and investment in, low carbon technologies and use of wet central heating systems will be part of future developments.  There will be a clear motivation to encourage heat networks and ensure that current and future developments can connect to one another.

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