Earlier this month the UK parliament debated an amendment to an energy bill which would establish quantitative targets for the decarbonization of the nation’s energy sector by 2030. The amendment was defeated in a close vote, prompting strong reactions. Tim Yeo, the Conservative chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee who introduced the amendment, said that the “failure to introduce a clean energy target now could make it harder for the UK to meet its long-term carbon reduction targets.” Caroline Flint, Labor’s shadow minister for energy and climate change called the vote “a humiliating failure.”
However, lost in the debate before and after the vote is that the UK has already committed itself to the decarbonization of its energy supply. This commitment results from the combination of an expectation of future economic growth and the passage 2008 Climate Change Act that mandates targets and timetables for emissions reductions. Growth in GDP coupled with reduced emissions is decarbonization.
Consequently, adopting formal legislation for decarbonization would be largely redundant. The UK government estimated that in 2012, 40 percent of emission came from the power supply sector. If the Climate Change Act is to succeed in its goal of achieving a 34 percent from 1990 emissions by 2022, then a substantial decarbonization of the power sector must occur.
The rate of decarbonization of the power sector implied by the targets and timetables of the Climate Change Act could be a bit more or less than the overall decarbonization rate. In the following discussion I assume that the rate of decarbonization of the power sector occurs at the overall implied rate and explore what that would imply.