Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in the UK — is it possible?

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In a bid to do their part towards the fight against climate change, the UK has planned to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. If it all goes to plan, this would mean that the UK would be the cleanest country across the globe — but is it achievable?

As of October 2018, an astounding 500 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted through the nation annually. Guidance from the Committee on Climate Change has been formally sought by the government about how and when the UK could bring this number down to zero though, with the move prompted from the release of a UN report which warned that CO2 emissions must be entirely stopped if dangerous climate disruption is to be avoided.

Talking about the future plans, Claire Perry, the UK’s climate minister said: “The report was a really stark and sober piece of work — a good piece of work. Now we know what the goal is, and we know what some of the levers are.

“But for me, the constant question is: what is the cost and who’s going to bear that, both in the UK and in the global economy. The question is: what does government need to do, where can the private sector come in, and what technologies will come through?”

Making vehicle swaps 

One action that the UK is planning to take to reduce emissions is banning petrol and diesel cars from 2040.

In preparation for the event, some British motorists are exploring what’s available when it comes to alternative-fuel vehicles. 

We’re already seeing a rise in purchases of alternative-fuel vehicles. Next Green Car revealed that the number of new registrations of plug-in cars jumped from just 3,500 in 2013 to over 195,000 as of the end of January 2019. Furthermore, figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders highlighted that electric car sales across the UK has shifted from only close to 500 being registered each month in the early part of 2014 to an average of 5,000 per month throughout 2018.

To support the upcoming change, important infrastructure has been implemented. While the UK’s network of electric vehicle charging points was recorded in at just a few hundred units as of 2011, there had been more than 5,800 charging locations, 9,800 charging devices and 16,700 connectors installed by June 2018.

We still have a long way to go before there are only electric cars on the road. The latest vehicle data from the SMMT stated that the car registrations market share for January 2019 was 64.08 per cent petrol, 29.08 per cent diesel and 6.84 per cent alternative-fuel vehicles, for example — but it appears that things are at least moving in the right direction.

An increase in low-carbon fuels

Both people and businesses need to start making the swap to low-carbon fuels. It appears the nation is already assisting in this area.

Considering one report published The Guardian, it was announced that the amount of renewable energy in the UK exceeded that of fossil fuels for the first time. With the amount of renewable capacity trebling in the same five-year period that fossil fuels decreased by one-third, the capacity of biomass, hydropower, solar and wind power hit 41.9 gigawatts and the capacity of gas, coal and oil-fired power plants recorded in at 41.2 gigawatts between July and September. 

 “Britain’s power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and [the quarter between July and September] saw a major milestone on the journey.” Dr Iain Staffell, the man behind the research, pointed out.

A new record was reached in 2018, when the UK was powered without coal for three continuing days. This was before a report from Imperial College London which was commissioned by Drax suggested that coal supplied only 1.3 per cent of Britain’s entire use of electricity during the second quarter of 2018 — furnaces based at coal-fired power stations throughout the country were completely unused for 12 days in June last year too.

Making changes in our homes

In 2017, it was predicted that the UK had to cut carbon emissions by 80% between then and 2050. What’s more, a third of those carbon emissions had been recorded from heating draughty buildings across the nation. 

It was also stated that 25 million existing homes were not currently meeting the insulation standards being enforced in the mid-century and will need to be refurbished to the highest standards. According to calculations, these findings mean that the rate of refurbishment stood at a rate of 1.4 homes needing to be worked on every minute as of the beginning of 2017.

Are there more benefits to taking on this project? The Green Building Council’s head Julie Hirigoyen explains: “People will have warmer homes and lower bills; they will live longer, happier lives; we will be able to address climate change and carbon emissions.

“We will also be creating many thousands of jobs and exporting our best skills in innovation.”

There’s no denying that it is an ambitious goal for the UK to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Fortunately, some of the examples covered in this article does at least suggest that efforts are being made to ensure the nation reaches its goal.

Research for this article was carried out by Volkswagen dealership, Vindis. 

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