Despite the UK making progress towards its net zero goals, the pace of decarbonisation has slowed in recent years, meaning the country is off track to meet some of its key targets, according to a new report from KPMG.
The report, released this week, found that the UK has cut its absolute carbon emissions by 37% since 2005 and its carbon intensity by 49%. This is one of the best records of any developed country, with only Germany delivering steeper.
Despite this progress, challenges lie ahead. “We have done the easy bit,” says Simon Virley, vice vhair and head of energy and natural resource at, KPMG in the UK. “The next part may be a lot harder.”
According to a report by the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) earlier this year, the rate of reduction needs to quadruple to meet the government’s COP26-set target of a 68% emissions cut by 2030.
The KPMG report suggests the UK “faces a big challenge” in improving the energy efficiency of its homes and is lagging most other European countries, particularly in light of the Ukraine war.
The country has some of the least energy-efficient homes in Europe, with around four-fifths heated by natural gas. To tackle this, the government has set a target of installing 600,000 electric heat pumps annually by 2028.
However, the CCC has warned that this target is unrealistic, given that the current installation rate is about one-ninth of this. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently extended the deadline for banning oil boilers in off-grid homes from 2026 to 2035.
The transport sector, which accounted for 25% of UK GHG emissions in 2022, is considered another challenge, as aviation and international shipping are difficult sectors to decarbonise. To tackle the former, the UK is hoping to become a “world leader” in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production by introducing a revenue certainty mechanism, but this technology is still in its early stages.
Encouragingly, 23% of cars sold in the UK in 2022 were electric powered, which the report suggests can inspire people to think more broadly about their power consumption and consider tariffs that offer cheaper electricity when demand is lower, Virley says: “I think the take-up of EVs has the potential to change the public’s relationship with energy.”
“In many ways, the UK has been a leader in net zero policies, with a strong track record on the adoption of renewables, significant progress in reducing dependency on coal, and high reporting standards for business,” said Virley.
“But past achievements are no guarantee of future success, and we are seeing many other nations catch up on the technology and policies needed, creating greater competition for green investment.”
Rest of the world
Emerging economies have seen their emissions rise since 2005, with China’s soaring 86% and India’s climbing 79%. However, both economies have slashed their carbon intensity by 50% and 34%, respectively, providing evidence that economic growth and emissions growth can be decoupled.
In the US, 2022 marked the first year that electricity from renewables exceeded coal, with 21% of production from renewables and 20% from coal, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Natural gas remained the largest source, with 39%. The country reduced emissions by 15%.
The report suggests that with its strong record of innovation, the US is well-positioned to lead the transition to a low-carbon economy, but many factors hang in the balance. The Inflation Reduction Act and increasing investor demands are likely to lead to a further reduction in emissions, with an analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicting that the legislation will help the US get to around 80% clean electricity by 2030.
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