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The Recession Bites Back: Devastating Impacts on Low Carbon Technologies in the UK

The Committee on Climate Change released its latest report today highlighting the devastating impact the economic recession has had on carbon trading schemes and investment for low carbon technologies. The report emphasises the vast investment needed in efficiency through green housing, power and transport in Britain, to service the goal of meeting the commitments in the Climate Change Act.

The Committee has called for ‘dramatic improvements’ in efficiencies across the economy, suggesting that more ‘forceful’ policies may be required to increase annual cuts in emissions by four-fold.

The Committee also recommends

– The introduction of 1.7m electric cars, with 3.9m drivers trained in fuel-efficient techniques, by 2020

– Building 8,000 new wind turbines, alongside four new coal power stations fitted with carbon capture technology and three new nuclear power plants, to slash emissions from the power sector by 50% by 2020.

The Government’s largest proposed clean coal plant to be fitted with CCS was shelved by E.ON last week, also reportedly as a result of the recession. However, the announced delay in the Kingsnorth project, which had become the focus of protests against climate change, heavily targeted by climate camp activists and the media; leaves politicians wondering how they might fill the expected energy supply gap in 2016.

The recession has also had a significant impact on the world’s emissions trading schemes – expected to be pivotal in driving market signals for low carbon investment. The drop in energy consumption, which led to the shelving of the Kingsnorth project in the UK, has also led to a drop in emissions in Europe, resulting in a surplus of carbon credits in the EU ETS. It is feared that this might result in a carbon price of just €20 a tonne in 2020, rather than the €50 a tonne used for its previous analysis.

The Committee has suggested that options to strengthen the carbon price, including the government underwriting a minimum price or intervening in the electricity market, should be “seriously considered”. On Friday, a report from Ofgem suggesting domestic energy bills could rise 14-60% by 2020 was seen by energy industry experts as an acceptance that the market-driven system has failed and the government needs to be more interventionist.

So the recession has played its role in dampening the prospects of the low carbon investment opportunities, and strong leadership will be essential to deliver the ‘radical’ and ‘dramatic’ improvements that the Committee has demanded. With Ed Milliband’s small budget, and uncertainties over changes in government next year, the UK needs to dig deep to create green opportunities that rescue the nation from the dire straits, courtesy of the economic recession.

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