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Climate Change & the UK Programme

Introduction

The United Kingdom signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change in June 1992 at the Earth Summit and ratified it in December 1993. The Government is now obligated to meet the commitments of the Convention and these include:

  1. formulating and implementing a national programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  2. supporting research into climate change;
  3. promoting public education, training and awareness.

This fact sheet reviews the UK Programme, and looks specifically at institutional mechanisms identified to limit the emission of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

The UK Programme

A direct result of the projected population increase over the next 25 years will be a growth in energy consumption, and consequently a rise in carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases if measures are not taken to mitigate the rise in emissions. The UK Programme focuses on the need to reduce such emissions, and has identified a full range of measures including legislation, economic instruments, regulation, information, advice and education.

The UK Programme employs a partnership or stakeholder approach, with consultation between Government, the devolved administrations and key players (including commerce, industry and the public sector), in drawing up emission reduction strategies. The UK Programme is also precautionary in that it urges society to implement measures to reduce the causes and possible effects of man-made climate change before there is unequivocal evidence to support such changes. The Programme explicitly recognises the benefits that the policies and measures offer including:

  • improved energy efficiency and lower costs for businesses and householders;
  • more employment opportunities through the development of new environmental technologies;
  • a better transport system;
  • better local air quality;
  • less fuel poverty; and
  • improved international competitiveness for the UK.

Following Kyoto Conference of Parties (in 1997), the UK's target is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The Government, however, has set a domestic goal to go further than the Kyoto commitment and cut the UK's emissions of carbon dioxide by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010. Current projections suggest that a 19% reduction below 1990 levels by 2010 is achievable, with a 23% reduction in all greenhouse gases.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is released during the combustion of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas). The volume of carbon dioxide emitted is directly related to the type of fuel used and the amount of energy consumed. Therefore, any reduction in carbon dioxide emissions will be dependent on 1) using less carbon intensive fuels; 2) improving the production and delivery of energy; and 3) utilising our energy more efficiently.

Projections show that action already taken in the UK is currently expected to cut emissions by around 15% below 1990 levels in 2010. The projections include the effect of some policies that have been introduced since Kyoto, such as the climate change levy and the 10% renewables target. Additional measures introuduced to save energy thoughout industry, homes and the transport sector could see an overall 19% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, close to the Government's domestic target of a 20% reduction.

Savings in Energy Supply and Demand

Savings are being and will continue to be made in both energy supply sectors (improved technology and renewable energy) and energy demand sectors (reduced consumption and increased efficiency). During the 1990s, the development of Combined Heat and Power systems, the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (designed to encourage the production of electricity from renewable sources), and switch to gas-fired power stations (which are less carbon-intensive) contributed towards significant carbon dioxide savings. On the demand side, residential, transport, industrial and public sectors have been targeted to improve the efficiency with which energy is utilised.

The updated UK Climate Change Programme (2000) contains a variety of new measures to further energy savings from both supply and demand. The integrated package aims to:

  • improve business' use of energy, stimulate investment and cut costs through the climate change levy, a domestic emissions trading scheme, a new Carbon Trust (to promote low carbon technologies), and new energy labels and standards;

  • stimulate new, more efficient sources of power generation, with targets to produce 10% of all UK electricty from renewable sources and a doubling of combined heat and power (CHP) capacity;

  • promote energy efficiency in homes through a New Home Energy Efficiency Scheme.

Beyond 2000

Beyond 2010, carbon dioxide emissions are projected to grow again. To ensure that we adopt a long term response to tackle climate change, a fundamental shift in the way this country generates and uses energy over the coming century is required. The Climate Change Programme begins to lay the foundation for more fundamental changes in the years to come. It is hoped that many of its policies and measures will deliver cuts beyond 2010, including a new strategy on renewable energy, new market mechanisms to encourage investment in low carbon technologies, and changes to the planning system which will influence development patterns and reduce the need to travel.

Conclusion

With an increasing global population and energy demand the task of achieving a worldwide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be difficult. In the long-term the concept of sustainable development (development today which does not compromise the needs of future generations) will have to be implemented if the Climate Convention's ultimate objective of avoiding dangerous man-made interference with the global climate is to be achieved. In the UK too, future growth in population and energy consumption will make the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, increasingly difficult. The aim will be to minimise the amount of energy we do consume, and to utilise this more efficiently. The ways in which this can be nationally, and internationally, implemented will be debated well into the 21st century.