17 September 2011

UK to Miss Carbon Targets

In February 2009 the BBC covered a talk I gave at Aston University in Birmingham in which I first presented a policy analysis of the UK Climate Change Act, which has just passed into law several months earlier.  Here is what the BBC said at the time of my talk:
The UK's plans to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 are fundamentally flawed and almost certain to fail, according to a US academic.

Roger Pielke Jr, a science policy expert, said the UK government had underestimated the magnitude of the task to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
My analysis focused much more on the 2018-2022 near-term target rather than the aspirational 2050 target, but otherwise the BBC article got it pretty much correct.  From certain quarters the reaction to my analysis was swift and damning (emphasis added):
Professor Pielke's intervention was rejected by economist Terry Barker, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"Pielke's analysis does not tell us how fast an economy can de-carbonise, just how much it has done so in the past when there has been a weak carbon price," he said.

"[His] proposals are diversionary; they fail to emphasise the scale of the no-regrets options available to reduce emissions at net benefit and they do not include potential changes in regulations on vehicles and power stations that could lead to rapid de-carbonisation."
It was thus very interesting to see in the news yesterday coverage of a new report that shows that the UK is going to miss its emissions targets:
Britain will miss government carbon targets by increasingly wide margins over the next 20 years unless it introduces radical policy measures, a report warned on Thursday.
I especially like this bit at the end of the article (emphasis added):
"On existing policies, included those inherited, endorsed and shortly to be put into effect by the coalition, the UK is set to miss the carbon budget targets in the first two budget periods (2008-2012 and 2013-2017) but by a wider margin in the third (2018- 2022) and especially the fourth (2023-2027)," argues the consultancy, a private company owned by a charity and chaired by the Cambridge University academic, Terry Barker.
My 2009 analysis of the UK Climate Change Act can be found here.


  1. Isn't the point of UK Climate Policy to either prove or disprove that various targets can or can not be met with windmills and solar panels?

    IMHO Progress on anything rarely occurs as long as one side of the debate holds onto magical Utopian solutions as their 'only' acceptable option.

  2. Your Iron Law was quoted approvingly in the Financial Times yesterday (under Life & Arts!):


    Mention of your Aston talk reminded me that Energy Minister Chris Huhne's recent attempt to blame 'lazy consumers' for the high energy bills we have in the UK (e.g. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/09/18/families-too-lazy-to-shop-around-for-energy-deals-says-chris-huhne-115875-23427870/)

    echoed Prof Julia King's comment after your talk about the 'selfish population' as described here:


    Her defence of the emissions budgets was very forthright at the time, I wonder what she thinks now.

  3. A corollary of your Iron Law seems to be that no policy initiative approved by the AGW community ever actually works.
    It really is time to vastly reduce the influence and power of the AGW community. They are wasting huge amounts of public treasure and time on things that will never work.
    There is the growing list of failed 'alternative energy' companies. Then there is the predictable scandals of public money going to the insiders who lobbied and received the tax payer money at those companies. And their ties to government decision makers.
    AGW is being exposed as just another special interest group that is fleecing the public.
    The failure of the UK policy, after the huge commitment given, sadly illustrates yet another cost of the AGW movement and its CO2 obsession.

  4. David MacKay wrote a good study of renewables in the UK a couple of years ago:

    He did the math and his conclusion is very clear: There is not enough renewable energy available for the British in Britain:

    The bottom line

    Let’s be realistic. Just like Britain, Europe can’t live on its own renewables. So if the aim is to get off fossil fuels, Europe needs nuclear power, or solar power in other people’s deserts (as discussed on p179), or both.


  5. Re Pirate (Comment #4). I agree, David MacKay's book is a breath of fresh air, but...

    Since 2009, David MacKay has been Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).


    Among his responsibilities are "ensuring DECC has a plan for meeting its 2020 and 2050 targets that is feasible, costed and deliverable"

    What went wrong?

  6. And more proof that chasing carbon dioxide fairies is as futile as chasing make a wish fairies.

  7. # 6 Ruth,

    You can lead a horse to the water but you can't make him drink.

    MacKay has probably found out that writing books is easier than changing policy.

  8. A bit OT, Airbus tells about something that will probably not curb emissions:

    "Airbus foresees strong ongoing demand for commercial aircraft. According to its latest Global Market Forecast (GMF), by 2030 some 27,800 new aircraft will be required to satisfy future robust market demand. The combined value of the over 26,900 passenger aircraft (above 100 seats) and more than 900 new factory built freighters forecast by the GMF is US$3.5 trillion.

    As a result, by 2030 the global passenger fleet will more than double from today’s 15,000 aircraft to 31,500. This will include some 27,800 new aircraft deliveries of which 10,500 will be needed for replacing older less fuel efficient aircraft. The trend towards larger aircraft will continue, in order for the aviation sector to keep pace with future growth in demand.

    People need and want to fly more than ever before. Over the next 20 years the aviation sector is expected to remain resilient to cyclical economic conditions as in the past. Airbus forecasts that Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPKs) will grow by an average 4.8 per cent per year, which is equivalent to traffic more than doubling in the next 20 years."