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experts comment on report published by the Committee on Climate Change

The Government’s Committee on Climate Change was assembled to independently assess how the UK can tackle climate change and meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Herb Castillo, Research Fellow at the Sustainability and Management Research Group, Queen’s University Management School, said:

“Forward thinking businesses should not see the move towards a low carbon economy as a threat or potential burden on their operations. Rather, by focusing on a low carbon approach now, businesses can realise benefits from positive differentiation of their brand and products in the market place, a lower energy bill, access to new markets and customers, regulatory compliance, and ultimately – increased profitability.”

Sue Ferns, Head of Research, Prospect, said:

“Prospect welcomes the ambitious carbon reduction targets called for by the Committee on Climate Change which reflect the scale and urgency of the threat posed by climate change.

“We also welcome the establishment of carbon budgets: it is essential to establish a long-term price for carbon in order to bring forward the investment needed to combat climate change and ensure security of energy supplies.

“However, Ed Miliband is right to state that successfully implementing carbon budgets will require a culture change, and we urge the Government to work closely with unions like Prospect to ensure that this can be achieved.”

Stuart Haszeldine, University of Edinburgh, said:

“CCS is rightly targeted as a key priority. However the present scale of Government effort to support development and demonstration is lamentable. Just one small demonstration on one plant by 2020 (as figured in the pre-Budget Report) will not deliver this CCS industry at the correct time. Without this development in the UK, it will be impossible to require CCS from 2020 as required by the CCC. Government needs to set support for CCS at the level set for onshore wind, then we will see decarbonisation rapidly and more effectively.”

Ian Fells (FREng), Emeritus Professor of energy conversion, Newcastle University, said:

“The laudable aims of the CCC report are not very different from those of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 2000. Lack of real political will has resulted in carbon dioxide emissions being higher now than in1997. The changes required will be staggeringly expensive to achieve but, more important, we are moving to a crisis in our future electricity generation capacity which must be addressed even more urgently than climate change. We need to build 20 new power stations through the next decade to keep the lights on.”

Prof Peter Styring, EPSRC Senior Media Fellow, Professor of Chemical Engineering & Chemistry Professor of Public Engagement, University of Sheffield, said:

“The report by the CCC is a welcome acknowledgement that climate change is an urgent issue. However the report is probably already somewhat out of date.
Carbon Capture and Storage simply defers the greenhouse gas issue. What is needed is a closing of the carbon cycle so that CO2 emissions are re-cycled into the chemicals industry through the creation of new commodity chemicals using new chemistries; or into new synthetic fuels. The EPSRC has already funded (since 2006) a consortium called C-Cycle that aims to do exactly that and patents have already been filed.

“With respect to the transport infrastructure the picture is less straight forward. Aviation will still rely on kerosene as the major fuel. It is difficult to ever imagine fuel cells for aircraft. While electric cars offer reductions in emissions at the local scale they offer small reductions overall as the electricity needs to be generated in a central location. Nuclear power would however be a solution to that issue. What would really help reduce emissions is a sensible and integrated national transport policy devolved from Local Government control. We have shown that poor road traffic management, usually as a result of over-reaction to road safety, can dramatically increase emissions in cities by several hundred percent on typical commutes. Public transport needs to be safe, efficient and reliable. This needs to tie in with traffic management.”

Tim Fox, Environment Theme Manager, Institution of Mechanical Engineers , said:

“The Institution of Mechanical Engineers welcomes the release today of the ‘Building a low-carbon economy’ report from the Committee on Climate Change setting out their recommendation for the UK’s first three carbon budgets through to 2022. It is encouraging to see that these budgets include reductions in the emissions of all Kyoto recognised greenhouse gases with a guiding principle of not harming the UK economy.

“If accepted by the government, the budgets will become legally binding and therefore have far reaching implications for the citizens and commercial activities of the UK. With this in mind, the Institution is concerned that the report does not set out how the budgets can be met in detail and it simply provides a high level view of what might be possible. In particular the Institution is concerned that:
•,significant effort on the part of the UK’s engineering community will be required to design, deliver, implement and maintain the technological infrastructure, systems and devices needed to meet the three budgets, yet the committee’s work does not include the undertaking of detailed studies to determine what is feasible in engineering terms
•,there has been no detailed consideration of the capacity and skills base available in the UK’s engineering community to actually deliver the infrastructure, systems and devices required to meet the budgets
•,there is an over-reliance on technologies to meet the budgets without any rigorous assessment of how these technologies can be delivered by when; for example it is recommended that only coal-fired power stations with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology should be allowed beyond 2020, when in fact the technology is unlikely to be commercially available until 2030 at the earliest
•,the issue of how emissions of the Kyoto recognised greenhouse gases will be measured consistently and fairly across all sectors has not been satisfactorily addressed to date

“The Institution therefore recommends that the government works with the engineering profession to put in place national plans across all sectors, on the basis of engineering feasibility, capacity and skills, to ensure that the UK has the ability to meet the budgets should they become legally binding.”

Dr Dave Reay, Lecturer in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“These recommendations really are going to put the political rhetoric on tackling climate change to the test. Not only are the cuts deep, they also provide scant wriggle room for emissions trading. The Treasury may well cringe, but here we have a roadmap to steer our nation and the world away from an environmental and economic precipice that would make dealing with the credit crunch look like a cakewalk.”

Dr Miles Seaman, Chairman of The Engineering Forum for Energy, said:

“The engineering community has wanted strong signals from government so we can get on with producing the solutions and the capacity to deliver them. Having well defined targets for emission reductions gets us on the way but is this sufficient to catch up with our near neighbours? For the last 10 years the message has been “jam tomorrow” and tomorrow never arrived. Perhaps these new targets bring us a little closer but we still need to be much bolder if we are going to really take the lead. Stable long term signals which could include rationing are required.”

Dr Scott Steedman, Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“We support the Climate Change Act as it puts the UK at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change by being the first country to enshrine emissions reduction targets in law. We welcome the formation of the Committee on Climate Change and the adoption of their ambitious 80 per cent emissions reduction target.

“However, Government needs to do more to ensure that the public understands the enormous challenge that this represents for all of us, and particularly for our industry, transport and power sectors and for housing and the built environment. Major decisions on engineering need to be taken urgently to set the country on the right trajectory and to ensure we are delivering solutions fast enough and at large enough scale. We need every low carbon technology we can deploy to meet these targets. To do this effectively, Government needs to involve the engineering profession in the policy making process more effectively. Above all, it is engineers who will plan, design and deliver the solutions we need for the future.”

Dr Jon Gibbins, Carbon capture and Storage expert, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial College London, said:

“Keeping the UK’s lights on may be a challenge if the new nuclear and wind projects that the CCC are relying on come in later than expected. And we will be very dependent on gas imports in any case, since there is much more of a stick approach to carbon capture and storage and coal than the carrot approach that is automatically given to similar low-carbon electricity from renewables. The focus on using decarbonised electricity to help decarbonise transport and buildings is excellent, but demands a sustained effort across a number of sectors. Whether this can be delivered using the present fragmentary energy markets remains to be seen.”

Tom Foulkes, Director General of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said:

“The emissions targets published today by the Committee on Climate Change are ambitious ones and Lord Turner is right to say that immediate action is required if we are to have a chance of meeting them.

“Reductions on this scale will require behavioural change and also a roll out of technology on an enormous scale to decarbonise energy generation and to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and transport systems.

“Engineers have the technical and business skills to meet the challenge of climate change. It’s time to ensure they are placed right at the heart of infrastructure policy decision making, advising the government every step of the way.”

Prof M. James C. Crabbe, Professor of Biochemistry, Dean of the Faculty of Creative Arts, Technologies and Science, University of Bedfordshire, said:

“I welcome the Turner report and the undertaking by Ed Milliband that carbon budgets will become pivotal to policy decisions within the UK. The combination of new technologies at realistic scales with individual use of energy efficiently should help achieve the targets and act as a beacon to developing countries.”

Hannah Chalmers, Energy Technology for Sustainable Development Group, Imperial College London, said:

“The CCC report highlights the importance of immediate UK action to tackle the potential for dangerous climate change in a global context. UK Government has already encouraged some progress through initial actions on critical technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). A key challenge now is to ensure that good preparation leads to successful deployment in the UK and globally.”

Dr Paul Williams, Research Fellow in climate modelling, University of Reading, said:

“The recommended cuts strike me as a sensible compromise between what is needed scientifically and what is achievable politically. But the potential fly in the ointment is aviation, which has not been given specific targets. Disputes over responsibility for international aviation emissions must be resolved urgently if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.”

Robert Freer, engineering consultant, said:

“My first reaction is to ask whether industry has been consulted on whether, or how, these targets can be achieved.

“Aspirations are commendable but are only aspirations unless they can be realised. For instance it is unlikely that a commercial and successful CCS plant will be in operation by 2020.

“Also I think global agreement will not be straightforward because other countries have different priorities. Global warming is by definition a global problem but China and India for instance simply want to increase their generating capacity to bring their populations out of poverty and enjoy a western standard of living.

“I would like to see industry consulted on what can realistically be achieved and whether any changes we make would have a significant impact on the global climate.”

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