UK’s contribution to COP 26, Glasgow, 2021

 When the Kyoto Convention was signed in 1997 to limit Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) to the upper atmosphere, the Parties to the Convention agreed that they would meet annually to review progress.   The meeting in Glasgow, starting 31 October, will be therefore be the 26th meeting of the Parties and some 6 years after the COP meeting in Paris at which the Parties agreed to try and limit the increase in average global temperature to 1.5 C.

So these discussions will be a critical step in agreeing actions which will reduce GHG emissions by 50% during this decade.  Such a reduction will be essential if extremes in climate are to be avoided according to the 6th Assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change.

As Barak Obama, the former US President succinctly observed ‘We are the first generation to witness changes in climate and the last generation who is able to act to limit irreversible changes in climate’

UK strategy

On 19 October, the UK published its strategy to reduce its GHG emissions to zero by 2050 whose principal sources of emissions are transport, heating of buildings and generation of electricity.

The greatest progress has been made in decarbonising the electricity supply as the UK is blessed with sufficient wind, wave and tidal energy to supply all its electricity.  With increasing renewable energy generation and phasing out coal, the carbon intensity of a unit of electricity has been halved.

In transport,  electric propulsion will replace fossil fuel combustion for cars, buses and trucks. If working from home became more of the norm then rail capacity would be freeded for transporting more goods by rail than road.  Perhaps the most interesting investment will be in creating cycle lanes and foot paths ‘to enable half of the journeys in towns and cities to be cycled or walked by 2030’

Heat and buildings

The biggest challenge will be to retrofit insulation to 19 million dwellings to reduce the heat loss to a level where it will be economic to install low carbon heating technologies like heat pumps. Funding will be made available by way of grants to assist in reducing heat losses.

The technologies and the know how are available, but the greatest barrier is cost as in the UK, electricity costs more than 4 times the cost of gas.  So at present low carbon heating is more expensive to install and operate than low carbon heating.

The new strategy proposes to reduce the cost of electricity by shifting or rebalancing energy levies and obligations away from electricity to gas. However this will only be possible if dwellings are well insulated or else such a switch it will create more fuel poor housing.

The strategy confirms that gas heating will be phased out starting with new homes in 2025 and in all dwellings by 2035 and that insulation levels will have to be increased to EPC level C in private rented buildings by 2028 and most likely by a similar date in social housing.

Rayner Mayer
Vice Chair

Reference:  Net Zero strategy: build back greener, UK Government (2021), 368 pages