Post-Brexit UK Emissions Reduction Goals On Track 27 Percent Renewable Energy Goal by 2030 Seems Lofty But Doable

UK emissions. Credit: Stephen Vacher, FlickrCC
Credit: Stephen Vacher, FlickrCC

As the European Union (EU) works to strengthen its renewable-energy targets by 2030, how will the UK’s own plans toward clean energy look in light of Brexit?

The EU Approach

The European Parliament has stated that by 2030, 27 percent of all energy demand should come from clean sources — e.g., sourced from wind or solar. This is an ambitious target as part of the bloc commitment to cut its carbon dioxide emissions — it remains the world’s third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, following China and the U.S.

The legally binding target has been more or less welcomed by Brussels. However, it has also come under criticism for the fact it does not explicitly say by how much greenhouse gases would be cut.

In the short term, however, progress has been made by member states — including the UK. The near-term goal of getting one-fifth of energy demanded from clean sources by 2020 is still achievable. Renewable sources have already doubled their share in energy consumed to 17 percent in 14 years. And if we look at countries like Sweden and Finland, clean energy is almost dominant at 50 and 40 percent respectively.

Unfortunately, countries like the UK and the Netherlands are still slow on the uptake regardless of the EU considering to increase the EU Parliament goal to 30 or 35 percent.

The UK’s Status

While it may be slowing in comparison to its current member-piers, the UK has made considerable progress. In 2010, only seven percent of its electricity came from clean sources, and seven years later that had increased to 19 percent.

The DECC asserts that it is most certainly on track to achieve its goal, and by 2020 that energy consumers across the country will pay more than £7.6bn on energy bills to subsidize such technologies further.

To make the targets, the UK would need to further look at swapping gas boilers for biomass burners which yield heat out from the ground. At this current point, the transport sector accounts for about five percent of road fuels from biofuels. Ministers also look at electrification policies for renewable heating.

Does Brexit Prevent This From Happening?

Not at all. Given the UK will exit from the EU, the UK could indeed take a less intense policy approach to heat and transport initiatives in the short term. But for renewable electricity, the long preparation times have meant many of the projects toward the 27 percent have already begun.

In reality, post-Brexit will doubtfully have an impact on UK energy policy, not least because the UK’s own Climate Change Act is even more ambitious than the EU’s, stating that by 2050, carbon emissions must cut by 80 percent on 1990 levels.

What About Decarbonization in General?

With regards to other targets surrounding decarbonization, such as recycling, England could adopt a more lenient target post Brexit. The current goal is 50 percent recycling of household waste by 2020 and potential targets of 65 percent by 2030. Given the UK has already expressed doubts regarding the 2030 targets, it is unlikely it will adopt those once removed from the EU.

Recycling rates in England have increased from 10 percent to circa 44 percent, but growth rates have slowed given underperforming local authorities. Wales is already exceeding Scotland and England with rates of over 50 percent.

Recycling companies are concerned that Brexit will have a detrimental effect on the UK’s recycling behavior but the House of Commons has reassured against this.

The areas which have however caused even more concern is clean air and clean water targets. The EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive sets out goals geared toward limiting pollutant levels in the air — namely nitrogen dioxide. The UK has already failed to produce plans laying out how to tackle nitrogen dioxide in 2015 and as a result is expected to have illegally high levels of nitrogen dioxide across the nation by 2020.

Plastic fibres were found in drinking water globally, and England’s waters will remain illegally polluted beyond 2021, six years past the initial deadline to reduce water pollution. More than 10 percent of people worldwide consume foods irrigated by wastewater containing contaminants, many of which come from fossil fuels. Solar energy, on the other hand, doesn’t pollute local water resources as photovoltaic cells don’t rely on water to generate power.

The EU has been one of the most receptive areas to counter the effects of climate change, not least because of its own contribution to them. While the targets laid out by Brussels have been largely adhered to by member states, performance has been mixed.

In light of Brexit on the horizon, it’s concerning that many of these targets will no longer be imposed, yet, with regards to the UK achieving 27 percent of its energy demands from renewable sources by 2030, it should still happen.

The preparations for this have already begun, and progress should continue at the same rate. Furthermore, its own Climate Change Act is often more ambitious in areas of renewable energy targets. Decarbonization through recycling and cleaner air is more concerning, but more light will shed as policies continue to work out pre-Brexit.

Emily Folk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.