I finally found some time to write about an event organised by the South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth branch, which took place in Leighton Buzzard on Saturday, 26th November 2016. The event was very well attended and the presentation by Neil Witney, Senior Policy Advisor for the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy entitled ‘Keeping the lights on and saving the planet’ was informative and gave the audience a good idea of the steps the government in the UK is taking to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emission.
Neil talked about the problem at a global level, what is going well in the UK, where the UK need to take further action, and how local action can help. I have given below some of the points he discussed in his presentation. This is by no means a comprehensive account of the whole presentation, but some of the points raised.
At a global level, 2016 saw the extent of the Arctic wintertime sea ice hit another record low and 2015 was the warmest year on record yet. To make matters worse, the next two decades will see global energy consumption increase substantially, which will mean an increase in CO2 emissions considering fossil fuel is still the main source of energy in many industrial countries.
What is the UK doing to reduce CO2 emissions
Diagram 1 below, from the presentation, shows CO2 emitted by the different sectors from 1990 to 2015. Decreases in UK CO2 emissions was greatest in industry, power and waste sectors, while transport, buildings and agriculture have not shown much decrease.
Diagram 1 – CO2 emitted by various sectors in the UK
The data below, also from the presentation, shows how much electricity was generated from renewable sources in the UK in 2015. Of a total of 337,700 GWh only 66,460 GWh (less than 20% of the total) came from renewables, which isn’t great, but it is a step in the right direction. It can be seen that energy from wind was the main source, followed by plant biomass.
Renewables electricity generation in 2015:
Total wind generation – 40,310 GWh
Plant biomass 18,587 GWh
Solar photovoltaics 7,561 GWh
Shoreline wave/tidal 2 GWh
Of total of : 337,700 GWh
Where does the UK need to take further action?
The UK managed to reduce CO2 emissions from 103 Mt in 1990 to 85 Mt in 2015. However, the target for 2050 is to lower CO2 emissions much further to 19 Mt CO2. Space heating accounts for around 38% of CO2 emissions in the UK and, in 2013 space and water heating accounted for 66% of the energy used in households. This means that if we are to meet the UK’s 2050 obligations, we will need to achieve complete decarbonisation of heat and this will be achievable only if we act now. Renewables sources are clearly one way to achieve this and another suggested way to help achieve this is smart-grid and smart meters. See this video
The Committee on Climate Change stated that:
“Progress in improving the energy efficiency of buildings has stalled since 2012:… Take-up of heat pumps and low-carbon district heating remains minimal…
Clear, consistent and credible policies are needed across these areas that are attractive to owners and landlords of both homes and workplaces, that overcome behavioural barriers and that can build up skills and supply chains…”
How can local action help?
- Local action in relation to planning – engaging with the local plan.
- Looking at the needs of the building stock as a whole, including energy efficiency, low carbon heating and electricity generation.
- Building by building – planning to improve individual buildings next time they are reviewed.
During questions at the end, which was chaired by Andrew Selous, MP, it became clear that some action is being taken locally and a few people also gave suggestions on how to reduce emissions locally. For example, making sure new housing development use electricity from renewables. It appears that Leighton Buzzard is fortunate to have one of the largest capacity to store electricity compared to other UK towns. We also have a windmill and the solar farm nearby generating electricity. Victoria Harvey, from the local Friends of the Earth even suggested we might be in a position to export our renewable energy to other parts of the UK and Neil thinks this might be a possibility. One point which was made by Neil and Andrew Selous was that if people have ideas or concerns, they should let the council or MP know, by writing to them or doing petitions, because they are not psychic.