Does the UK Need a Net Zero Target?

A new report released this week is calling for the U.K. to establish a supplemental net zero target by 2020.

The U.K.’s major climate legislation, the Climate Change Act, is 10 years old this month, and its anniversary has caused some to take a closer look at its viability in light of the country’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

The report, released by London-based Grantham Research Institute, says the Climate Change Act was great for its time, but “climate change policy is fast moving,” and the act needs to adjust to the needs of the Paris Agreement.

A net zero target would seek to balance the U.K.’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities with removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Related: Could ‘No Paris, No Trade’ Be the New Global Position on Climate?

The report said that new legislation likely would be required to create a country-wide net zero target.

The Climate Change Act provides for 2050 emissions to be at least 80 percent below 1990 levels, which the U.K.’s Climate Change Committee says keeps the legislation in line with the Paris Agreement for now.

But the report said there is evidence that a mismatch in long-term objectives will need to be remedied.

Brexit and Carbon Accounting

Among the legislative revisions outlined in the report is a call to refine carbon accounting rules, moving the U.K. from net accounting to gross accounting when it leaves the European Union (EU).

The report explained that installations covered by the EU emissions trading system (ETS) — power stations and industrial plants — can buy and sell EU allowances across the EU without limits, with actual (or gross) emissions adjusted for cross-border trades. Therefore, the U.K.’s net trading position enters the carbon budgets.

“In practice, this means that the traded part of the carbon budgets (the emissions covered by the EU ETS) corresponds exactly to the U.K.’s allocated share of EU Allowances,” the report said. “This arrangement affords the U.K. extra flexibility, as ETS trading can be used to meet carbon budgets.”

The net emissions rule, however, is confusing. It means that “important developments, such as the progress made in decarbonizing electricity generation, are not directly reflected in the budgets,” the report said.

The Climate Change Act was a major driver for transformation of the U.K.’s power sector, helping the U.K. meet its first two carbon budgets and decouple greenhouse gas emissions from GDP, according to the report.

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Jennifer Delony, analyst for TransmissionHub, started her career as a B2B news editor in the local and long-distance telecommunications industries in the '90s. Jennifer began covering renewable energy issues at the local level in 2005 and covered U.S. and Canadian utility-scale wind energy as editor of North American Windpower magazine from 2006-2009. She also provides analysis for the oil and natural gas sectors as editor of Oilman Magazine.

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