Climate change: Are the UK’s targets realistic? – Bill Jamieson

The scale of the task ahead if the UK is to meet its targets to dramatically reduce carbon emissions is huge, writes Bill Jamieson

Britain may need to build a lot more wind turbines (Picture: John Devlin)
Britain may need to build a lot more wind turbines (Picture: John Devlin)

As if the cost of the HS2 rail link was not enough to give pause for thought, consider the implications of the UK Government’s climate change ambitions.

It has now brought forward a proposed ban on sales of new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars from 2040 to potentially 2032 to hit carbon emission targets – all this ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November.

Once in effect, only electric or hydrogen cars and vans will be available for sale. Moving to a wholesale ban in 12 years presumes, not only that millions of motorists will have switched to electric vehicles, but also that the charging infrastructure will be in place across the UK.

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Looking more widely, the government’s Committee on Climate Change estimates that power sector investment “may need to increase to around £20 billion a year by 2050” to cover investment in renewables, low-carbon power, peak power and networks (including transmission and distribution). So far just £10 billion was spent between 2013 and 2017.

As for switching to low-carbon heating, this, on CCC estimates, “will require annual investment by 2050 of around £15-20 billion, up from just £100 million in 2018”. In Scotland alone, this will involve replacing gas boilers in two million homes.

Overall, to match the UK’s current energy consumption, we need ten times as much ‘clean’ electricity, equivalent to 250,000 wind turbines compared with 10,000 currently, 4.5 million acres of solar panels (ten per cent of all the land in agricultural production) or 50 Hinkley Point C nuclear power plants.

All of which can be done, at a cost of £1 trillion to £2 trillion. We are all in favour of climate change action. But are these targets in such a timescale realistic? Has the government considered the scale of costs involved, and, if so, are we ready?