The UK’s Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) this week announced a £20m injection of government-backed venture capital support, for the deployment of recent advances in innovative, low carbon technologies.

Whilst private funds for early stage commercialisation and technology development have fallen significantly as a result of the economic downturn, this investment demonstrates the rising priority and commitment of the UK government to the climate change agenda. The funds will level the playing field for new and emerging technologies, to support capacity building, develop skills and demonstrate capabilities of renewable energy sources to meet the insatiable needs of the global economy.

This announcement complements initiatives announced in the UK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan in July 2009, aimed at reducing the UK’s emissions by 34% by 2020 (18% of 2008 levels); and ultimately 80% by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008. At the heart of the Act and the Low Carbon Transition Plan lies the carbon budgets, which have been assigned to all Government departments responsible for regulating different sections of the UK economy; with a requirement to produce a plan to demonstrate how they intend to stay within the assigned budget. If the Government fails to ensure that the UK can live within its carbon budgets, it will have to purchase carbon credits from international emissions trading schemes.

The UK has committed to procure 40% of energy needs from low carbon sources by 2020; an extension to the legally binding commitment in the EU Renewables Directive, which obligates the UK to generate 15% of total energy (electricity, heat and transport) from renewable sources by 2020.

The Low Carbon Transition Plan introduces a range of efficiency measures, including the ‘pay as you save’ insulation scheme, as well as a Clean Energy Cash-back Scheme, which aims to incentivise the generation of green power by individuals and organizations by providing a fair structure to sell green energy back to the National Grid. Ed Milliband, has talked about the inspiring communities by encouraging the UK’s top 15-20 cities, towns and villages to compete at the forefront of green innovation, to initiate the UK’s green revolution. Whilst climate change is a driving force, significant policy drivers include resource and national security, as the race to limit dependencies on finite resources begins.

The UK is keen to cement its position as a leader in the run up to the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP-15) in Copenhagen in December, and Ed Milliband has called for the same decisive approach to climate change as the G20 demonstrated earlier this year on the global economic downturn (McLachlan, 2009).

Discussions held at the UN’s climate change summit last week, and the Pittsburgh G20 summit; provide a broad practical framework of what may constitute a succinct ‘Copenhagen treaty’, but Jeffery Sachs argues that the climate change issue may be too complex to solve in a ‘Kyoto II’ type agreement in December. Instead climate negotiations should aim for an interim agreement on general principles, financing and technology transfer, with practical programmes and steps, which can be introduced and further developed for immediate action. Sachs (2009) adds

“There is still time for a three-part package: a political framework, a financing package, and a series of practical steps announced by all major regions to tilt the trajectory on emissions.”

The political framework would outline the fundamental agreement – that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities”, and that drastic quantifiable emissions cuts are required to stay under a 2C rise. A financial package from the most developed nations should support the least developed countries to invest in clean technologies, and adapt to the disastrous impacts, especially since the majority of poor populations reside in tropical regions vulnerable to the major effects of climate change.

In addition to all the negotiations, Sachs adds that governments should announce a meaningful set of immediate practical programmes to reduce emissions on a large scale. The initiatives introduced by the UK Government in its Low Carbon Transition Plan do just that, but the bigger challenge remains to encourage the fundamental participation of the US, Europe, China, and India to do the same.

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