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Cameron says 2020s decarbonisation target “extremely unwise”

Prime Minister says UK must develop carbon capture technologies before committing to tough emission goals

(Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

(Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

By John McGarrity

A target to decarbonise the UK electricity sector by 2030 is “extremely unwise” because it would rule out fossil-fuelled electricity and carbon capture and storage, David Cameron has told a committee of MPs.

In response to questions from Parliament’s Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister said supporters of a decarbonisation goal need to tread with “great caution” in their support of targets that could prohibit new gas-fired and coal-fired power stations and risk energy security.

Cameron added that if the government fixed such a figure before the roll-out of carbon capture and storage technologies “that would be a huge mistake”.

Critics point out that no large scale CCS project is currently being developed in Britain because many energy companies say costs are too high and subsidies too low, but the government hopes that Drax’s White Rose scheme will get going in the second half of the decade and that others will follow.

The UK’s landmark energy bill, which is progressing through parliament, hasn’t yet set a decarbonisation target in view of strong opposition from Conservatives against the wishes of junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats.

Carbon budget row

The Government’s climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change has advised that  electricity in 2030 emit no more than 50g of CO2/kW by 2030.

Gas power stations currently emit around 350g of CO2/kW, and would be ruled out unless their emissions were captured and stored, or used as backup power for renewable energy.

The Climate Change Committee has also advocated that the country’s fourth carbon budget for the years 2023-2027 cuts carbon emissions by 32% in 2025 from 2012 levels and would be a reduction of 50% from 1990 levels.

The government says it needs a blend of nuclear, new gas-fired power and CCS besides renewables so Britain will have sufficient supply when the wind stops blowing and can help control rising energy prices, which became a hot political issue last year.

Yesterday calm weather meant the amount of electricity generated by wind turbines in Britain fell below 3%, which some supporters of gas say backs up the need for a diverse energy mix in future decades.

Energy investment

Cameron said a “security of supply” is the most important issue in energy policy but that following a recent meeting with energy bosses recently he had been reassured there was no chance of blackouts.

The Conservative Prime Minister, who faces a general election next year, was speaking a day after the government announced increased tax breaks for local authorities that allow fracking in Britain.

The government thinks the sector can attract £3.5 billion of investment, create 74,000 jobs and supply Britain with its requirements of gas for 30 years, but sceptics claim shale gas will despoil the English countryside, cause pollution and lock gas into the UK’s future energy mix.

Cameron said ”irrational” critics had become “religiously opposed” to fracking “because they simply can’t bear the thought of another carbon-based fuel being used”.

He added: “Some people who oppose fracking are people who posit that gas prices going to rise and rise, that’s why they believe in decarbonisation targets”.

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