Initially an integral component of the environment movement, from the late 1980s, climate change has emerged as a separate policy domain with its own body of law.
Despite the EU’s heavy involvement in resultant policy, little change might be expected in the UK after departure from the EU. From its inception, the UK has been the leader in climate change policy. Much of that which forms the core of EU policy was driven by the UK.
In fact, the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 goes further than EU requirements, so the broader UK policy would be largely unaffected by withdrawal. Certainly, as far as Article 50 negotiators might be concerned, there would be little to be lost in the short-term by accepting conformity with the entire climate change acquis as part of the exit settlement.
Another crucial element of climate change policy is the way it defines energy policy. Between London – with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – and Brussels, “energy policy” and “climate action” have been merged to become one.
As to UK energy policy, this is currently dominated by the policy imperative of decarbonising electricity production in order to meet the 2050 target of reducing emissions by 80 percent. Leaving the EU would not in itself solve any problems but it would remove any European barriers to reassessing policy. We would, however, still be bound by international commitments.
Nevertheless, there is concern that security of supplies and affordability have not been given sufficient priority in policy formulation, and that electricity supplies are dangerously vulnerable to disruption. Leaving the EU may, therefore, afford the opportunity for a fundamental policy review.
Specifically, we would expect a national debate on whether it is wise to continue pursuing the 2050 target – which is committing us to reliance on renewables (mainly wind) and large-scale nuclear power, neither of which is capable of delivering the power load required at an affordable cost.
Given the freedom to devise our own policy free from constraints, one might expect wider use of local, gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP), together with small modular nuclear reactors, also delivering combined heat and power. We would expect continued deployment of proven demand management techniques, aimed at smoothing peaks and cutting the peak capacity requirement, ongoing support for better insulation and more efficient energy usage.
Clearly, this minimises emissions, but it is not a “zero carbon” strategy. There is thus no point in pursuing the electrification of transport or heating – this simply transfers emissions. If increased energy efficiency could reduce emissions by half, doubling consumption of electricity without decarbonisation would merely restore the status quo.
That still leaves room for a small number of large, centralised plants, to provide some base load for the national system, and to provide technology test beds. These form the fourth pillar of the policy. A few large nuclear reactors could be part of the mix, especially if “thorium enabled”, so constructed as to allow conversion to use thorium as a fuel.
Coal also should be included in the energy mix, but rather than look to carbon capture and storage (which the government now seems to have abandoned) a new energy mix might include high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal plants, bringing efficiencies to well above 45 percent (up from less than 30 percent in older plants).
Using such technology on a national scale might yield higher emissions than alternative technologies. But if it is used to help less developed countries exploit similar systems, global fuel efficiency can be increased and emissions reduced, making real contributions to climate change and energy security targets.
In effect, withdrawal permits the development of rational policy that has a chance of working, and is the best proposition for security of supply. It allows the pursuit of realistic, achievable and desirable energy efficiency targets, as opposed to pursuing unachievable emission targets, the outcome of which risk increasing emissions rather than reducing them.
This link was originally published by Ben Kelly on 29 March 2016