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Britain’s slow path to zero carbon emissions

Extinction Rebellion: what pushes people to drastic action on climate change?

Slow burn? The long road to a zero-emissions UK,  Guardian, Robin McKie, Observer science editor, Sun 21 Apr 2019

Extinction Rebellion protesters want a carbon-free UK by 2025. But can the financial and political hurdles be overcome?

 ……..  Extinction Rebellion protesters want a carbon-free UK by 2025. But can the financial and political hurdles be overcome?
The crucial question is: when? Just how quickly can we eliminate our carbon emissions? Extinction Rebellion protesters are clear. They want the UK to be decarbonised by 2025. That will mean massive curtailment of travel by car or plane, major changes in food production – steaks would become culinary treats of the past – and the construction of swathes of wind and solar plants. But given that we face disastrous climatic change, only massive, widespread, rapid interventions can now save us from a fiery global fate, they say.

Many experts disagree, however. They argue that such an imminent target is completely impractical. “Yes, you could decarbonise Britain by 2025 but the cost of implementing such vast changes at that speed would be massive and hugely unpopular,” says Lord Turner, former chairman of the climate change committee.

Most expect the climate change committee will plump for 2050 as Britain’s ideal decarbonisation date. “2050 is do-able and desirable and would have an insignificant overall cost to the economy,” states Turner, who is now chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission. According to this scenario, developed nations, including Britain, would aim to achieve zero-emissions status by 2050 and then use the decarbonising technologies they have developed to achieve this goal – hydrogen plants, carbon dioxide storage vaults and advanced renewable generators – to help developing nations halt their greenhouse gas emissions by 2060.

Many experts disagree, however. They argue that such an imminent target is completely impractical. “Yes, you could decarbonise Britain by 2025 but the cost of implementing such vast changes at that speed would be massive and hugely unpopular,” says Lord Turner, former chairman of the climate change committee.

Most expect the climate change committee will plump for 2050 as Britain’s ideal decarbonisation date. “2050 is do-able and desirable and would have an insignificant overall cost to the economy,” states Turner, who is now chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission. According to this scenario, developed nations, including Britain, would aim to achieve zero-emissions status by 2050 and then use the decarbonising technologies they have developed to achieve this goal – hydrogen plants, carbon dioxide storage vaults and advanced renewable generators – to help developing nations halt their greenhouse gas emissions by 2060.

And the change has already been reflected in Britain’s power statistics. In 2013, 62.5% of UK electricity was generated by oil, coal and gas stations, while renewable provided only 14.5%. In 2018, the figure for oil, coal and gas had been reduced to 44% while renewables were generating 31.7%. It is a distinct improvement – though we have yet to be given a date when engineers expect the last UK fossil-fuelled power plant to produce its final watts of electricity and to emit its last puffs of carbon dioxide

“Decarbonising UK power production is going well,” says George Day, head of policy for the technology and innovation centre Energy Systems Catapult. “There is a clear path forward.” But as he points out, there are many other sources of carbon dioxide in the UK. “The next big challenge will be heating. Gas boilers are major carbon emitters and dealing with them is going to be very difficult.”

According to Day, about 90% of British people have gas boilers in their homes, most having been fitted relatively recently …

………In the end, it will simply not be possible to reduce Britain’s fossil-fuel emissions to zero, say scientists. To compensate, we will have to take carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. “That is the logical, inevitable consequence of trying to achieve zero net emissions in this country,” argues Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia. “If you are looking for any net zero target then you have to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

This can be done in three ways: naturally, by planting trees and shrubs that absorb carbon dioxide. Or artificially – on a larger scale – the gas can be removed as it is produced at a factory or power station that burns trees for energy.

Or it can be removed by huge numbers of man-made air filters, known as direct air capture. The carbon dioxide can be liquefied and stored underground in underground caverns, or old, depleted gas fields under the North Sea. This is known as carbon capture utilisation and underground storage (CCUS).

“In the end, your choice of replanting or of building underground storage facilities depends on how much carbon you will need to remove,” says Le Quéré. “Most calculations suggest Britain will need to take quite a lot of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to keep its net emissions at zero.”……….

UK carbon emissions have fallen for the sixth year running

This need for speed is shared by many other parts of the zero-emissions programme, as we have seen. It may seem odd given it is unlikely it will reach its conclusion for another three decades. Nevertheless, scientists are adamant that even if choose 2050 for our decarbonisation date, we need to act now.

This urgency of the task is emphasized by Joeri Rogelj at Imperial College London. “If the world limits emissions of carbon dioxide to no more than 420 billion tonnes this century, we will have a two in three chance of keeping global warming down to around 1.5C.

“However, if we go above to 580 billion tonnes then our chances will be reduced to 50-50. The problem is that in 2017 alone, a total of 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted in a single year. By that calculation, we clearly do not have a lot of time to waste.”https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/21/long-road-to-zero-emissions-uk

April 22, 2019 - Posted by | climate change, politics, UK

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