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Halfway to net zero heaven

Halfway to net zero heaven

Halfway to net zero heaven

UK emissions have fallen by 52 per cent since 1990 and fossil fuels provided just a third of the UK's energy last year – change is happening

Good news for Good Friday. Preliminary figures show that Britain's domestic greenhouse gas emissions fell by a further five percent last year, meaning emissions are now down 52.7 percent on 1990 levels.

This is a historic and industry-leading achievement. Britain has cut emissions further and faster than any other major industrialized country, while still growing its economy by 80 percent since 1990. At a time when a sense of national decline seems quite palpable, this real achievement deserves to be celebrated (it remains utterly bizarre that the government is not trying to take more credit for this achievement, fearing the media's backstabbers and supporters, who think that all climate action is a catastrophe).

Inevitably, the record contains many caveats. Global emissions are still rising and Britain's imported emissions remain stubbornly high. Much of the emissions reductions have been achieved first through deindustrialization and more recently through the moderation of economic growth. The emissions savings could have been much greater were it not for the numerous policy mistakes made over the past two decades and the continued subsidization of polluting industries.

Most importantly, most of the decarbonisation in the energy sector has been achieved through improvements in energy efficiency and the closure of coal-fired power stations, which you cannot now close twice. Emissions from transport, buildings, heating, industry and agriculture remain far too high. It is unclear whether emissions cuts in the energy sector can be sustained, especially when clean energy auctions fail, nuclear projects are postponed and parts of the government remain enamored with the fossil gas industry.

And yet it is not entirely implausible to suggest that if we have halved emissions in just over 25 years, it stands to reason that we can now wipe out the other half in the next 25 years.

Yesterday's data release from the government also included new statistics showing how renewable energy generation exceeded fossil fuel generation for the fourth time last year. Wind energy generation has set a series of new records, while renewable energy sources accounted for more than 47 percent of the energy mix by 2023. Coal, gas and oil together generated just 34.3 percent of Britain's electricity – a record low.

The pipeline of clean energy projects means this trend will continue and likely accelerate. The grid will be predominantly clean by 2030 and almost completely clean by 2035.

What about the still high emissions from transport and heating? Well, across Europe, electric vehicles and heat pumps routinely account for between 10 and 20 percent of the market, costs are falling and demand is growing rapidly. These technologies are marching into the mainstream. Meanwhile, projects once thought to be technologically unfeasible are advancing, providing avenues for the decarbonization of everything from steel and aviation to proteins and shipping.

Decarbonization is becoming more difficult in many ways, but it is not inevitable that the downward curve of the past 25 years will change course over the next quarter century. This is a gross simplification, but you can see how renewables could largely decarbonize energy supplies over the next five years, electric vehicles and heat pumps could decarbonize transport and heating in the 2030s, and how carbon capture, hydrogen and other technologies decarbonise industry and shipping. and aviation in the 2040s. That would deliver emissions reductions of between 80 and 95 percent, after which carbon removal solutions could polish off the rest. There are plenty of good reasons to think that, as with decarbonization to date, all of this could be achieved at a very reasonable cost and would result in multiple economic, safety and health benefits.

Yes, it all sounds a bit utopian. Yes, it has to happen globally. Yes, it will be accompanied by escalating climate impacts and ecosystem collapse and all the economic and geopolitical disasters that come with it. But it's not completely unbelievable, is it? Not least because it is already happening.

A version of this article first appeared as part of BusinessGreen's Overnight Briefing email, which is available to all BusinessGreen Intelligence members.

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