Energy and Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker, this morning told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme listeners that Britain should increase its carbon emissions target to 30 percent – as long as the rest of Europe follows suit.

Although he was expecting to speak on the upcoming Green Deal, Barker ended up commenting on the commitment to reducing its increasing CO2 reduction from the existing 20 percent to 30 percent. However, he maintained that Britain cannot do this on its own, and the rest of Europe needed to help out, by increasing its ambitions if we are to reach the binding 2050 targets.

“The emissions trading scheme has seen the price of carbon fall almost to record lows because of the turmoil in Europe,” he explained.

“There is a lot of scope for us to increase that level of ambition and push up the carbon price and still do it in a way that is good for business and gives long-term certainty but doesn't actually harm our competitiveness.

"We are going to comfortably exceed our 2020 emissions target as things stand, which is 20 percent. We think we are in a good position to raise that level of ambition to 30 percent.”

Barker also proposed a “strong carbon price,” which could be used to encourage more businesses to invest in low-carbon technology, such as solar photovoltaics, solar thermal and other forms of renewable energy.

However, although this news seems positive, it will come as a shock to many, as it was announced in June last year that carbon emissions climbed to a record high in 2010. In fact, many said that Europe had no hope of reaching its targets unless drastic changes were made – fast.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2ºC,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA.

“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call. The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for maneuverer in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving the global goal agreed in Cancun.”

The biggest problem for Britain continues to be the way homes are heated. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s latest publication on the topic, Heat: Degrees of Comfort, found that Britain is simply not capable of reaching its binding targets for CO2 reduction without a serious shake-up of the way homes are heated nationwide. 

"Managing the UK’s energy systems in a way that reduces CO2, avoids expensive imports, ensures energy security, does not exacerbate fuel poverty, supports job creation and works with, rather than against, the competitive market will be hugely difficult," said Professor Roger Kemp FREng of Lancaster University, who chairs the Academy's Heat working group. "Government is only just coming to terms with the complexity of these multiple demands on policy."

In recent months the UK Government has begun to concentrate on decreasing the reliance on conventional heat sources with a new heat strategy, the extension of the Renewable Heat Premium Payment Scheme (RHPP) before the rollout of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for residential customers. This scheme is already open to the commercial sector.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has also published the UK’s first Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) roadmap, as well as a CCS competition.

The effect these policies will have on reducing the UK’s carbon emissions is yet unknown, however Government remains committed to creating a greener economy.

10 April 2012

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