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Assessing the UK’s Green Credentials

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The landmark COP26 climate conference in Glasgow is being described by many, including Boris Johnson, as a final chance to align global sustainability efforts with targets laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. However, it comes less than a week after an Autumn Budget speech that was criticised for failing to make a single reference to climate.  

Here, we take a closer look at how last week’s budget will impact on energy and sustainability, as well as the UK’s leadership role as both hosts of COP26 and the first country to declare a climate emergency.  

The Budget 

Many in the sustainability sector will have been hoping for more concrete plans to be rolled out, particularly after a delayed 2020 budget, delivered in March 2021, placed a particular focus on green investment. Any early acknowledgement of the role that rising global energy prices are playing in pushing up inflation sounded promising, but chancellor Rishi Sunak never circled back to an issue that presents a growing threat for large numbers of businesses.

A decision to cut the rate of air passenger duty on domestic flights was also picked out by green campaigners as sending the wrong message, particularly ahead of the UK hosting a key climate conference. However, digging into the details of the spending review in the treasury’s published ‘red book’, rather than just the statement itself, shows that sustainability is still a priority. Net zero and climate are collectively referenced nearly 100 times, drastically more than the red book published following the 2020 budget.

The document outlines £30 billion in public investment for the ‘green industrial revolution’ since March 2021, with £1.7bn of that intended to support a new, large-scale nuclear plant. Under new plans to incentivise nuclear power, plants will receive payments as soon as construction starts, rather than only once they are generating electricity.

The National Infrastructure Commission is also being instructed to consider how its advice can support climate resilience and the transition to net zero. While the previously published net zero strategy outlined plans to rebalance energy levies and taxes on electricity compared to gas, this wasn’t included in the spending review.

COP26 

COP26 has already seen a raft of new commitments from attendees, including a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. It has also seen the USA re-join the High Ambition Coalition that drove through the 1.5C target in Paris. The world’s second biggest emitter committing to a 1.5C target, rather than the less ambitious 2C also laid out in Paris, will boost hopes that COP26 will arrive at a decision that aims for the lower temperature rise.  

To achieve this, climate finance is needed by developing nations to deliver their own sustainability efforts. Just a week before COP26, the UK set out a revised climate finance plan, pushing back an initial target for developed countries to provide $100 billion of annual climate finance by 2020 back to 2023. Some smaller nations have criticised the delay, calling for the finance goals to be met immediately. 

In terms of meeting the commitments agreed in Paris, the Climate Action Tracker makes for worrying reading. As it stands, of the countries assessed only the Gambia is on track to meet the Paris Agreement. The UK is performing well compared to most other countries, rated as ‘almost sufficient’ alongside Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal and Nigeria. However, major nations are generally falling behind, including Germany, the USA and Japan (insufficient), China, Brazil and Canada (highly insufficient) and Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia (critically insufficient).

The UK has laid out further, ambitious plans to decarbonise our energy system. This includes a commitment to source all electricity from renewable sources by 2035. However, we have seen in recent months the risks of relying on inflexible wind generation, with a mild, calm September hampering generation and sending demand for gas soaring. Whatever the final agreement in Glasgow, both the UK and the wider world still have a huge amount of work to do to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement. While drawing some criticism, the UK still has a credible claim to being a global leader on sustainability, but the roadmap to achieving net zero is still somewhat unclear. For businesses, this uncertainty has the potential to impact your operations in a number of ways; through increased energy prices, power disruption or legislative pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

Solving all of these issues at the same time can be a difficult balancing act, with some technologies that bolster one aspect of your energy strategy potentially having a detrimental impact elsewhere. Battery energy storage systems and voltage regulation both represent a solution to all three threats, reducing energy costs and carbon emissions while protecting your site from the threat of disruption. 

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