The World in 2020

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Action not words

In 2020 time isn’t on our side. Preventing dangerous irreversible climate change requires a much bigger and faster response than anything previously achieved. So 2020 must be a year of more action and fewer words.

And it must be the right action. In 2015 the Nationally Determined Contributions (carbon emissions targets) at the heart of CoP 21 in Paris were a form of progress. Added up, however, these NDCs allowed a temperature rise of over 3 C. When CoP 26 ends on 19 November 2020 in Glasgow its decisions must go much further than Paris did to prove the world is serious about climate change.

Last year’s 2 per cent jump in carbon emissions was bigger than the average of the last ten years. The recent UN Emissions Gap Report warned starkly “there is no sign of emissions peaking in the next few years and every year of postponed peaking means deeper and faster cuts will be required.”

Setting net zero targets won’t by itself reverse this upward trend or bring forward the date on which emissions finally peak. All new targets set in 2020 must be backed by identified actions that are capable of achieving those targets by the specified date.

It’s time for the energy industry, a big emitter, to take the lead in 2020. The technology to decarbonise electricity generation completely already exists. Deploying it requires immediate action, not fi ne words.

Investment in all low kinds of carbon energy, including nuclear, must grow in 2020. Carbon markets and taxes must drive carbon prices higher. Cross border tax adjustments, backed by the new European Commission President, must be introduced to prevent carbon leakage.

In 2020 building unabated coal plants must stop. Everyone knows it, some people talk about it and Europe is doing it. Elsewhere bankers, insurers and investors, all fearful of stranded assets, seem readier to act than governments.

Reality not fantasy

In 2020 energy policy must be anchored in reality. Fossil fuel fans argue that carbon capture utilisation and storage can enable their continued use. This is fantasy. Economically viable CCUS is no nearer being available today than it was a decade ago and big energy companies are no keener to invest heavily in researching it.

Modern economies depend on a continuous supply of electricity. Claims that this can be securely provided when 80 per cent of that electricity is generated from intermittent sources like wind and solar are another fantasy.

The flexible, large scale, long term, low cost electricity storage needed to make greater reliance on renewables safe isn’t yet available. Making policy in 2020 on the basis that it will be soon would be recklessly irresponsible.

Reality also applies to cost comparisons between technologies. Last February the 6 GW Hornsea wind farm began generating electricity at a price to British consumers of £155/MWh. That makes criticisms of the cost of Hinkley Point C impossible to justify in 2020.

The notion that renewable energy alone can fill the gap created by lower fossil fuel use is also a fantasy. Bloomberg New Energy Finance warned last month “the majority of power to be produced from the overall fleet of power plants added in 2018 will come from fossil sources and emit CO2. This is due to wind and solar projects generating only when natural resources are available while oil, coal and gas plants can potentially produce around the clock.”

Indulging in energy fantasies is dangerous. It discourages, and can even prevent, investment in desirable solutions. In 2020 providers of low carbon electricity should work together. The nuclear lobby is ready to cooperate with the renewable energy industry, whose growth we welcome.

So in 2020 let nuclear start to play its part

Historically only two countries, France and Sweden, have ever cut carbon emissions in the past as fast as every country must now do in future. Both did so in the wake of the 1970s oil shock and achieved those cuts by investing heavily in nuclear. This lesson is particularly relevant in 2020.

Nuclear should be treated equally alongside other low carbon sustainable energy sources. The case for including nuclear energy within the EU Taxonomy is overwhelming and should be accepted in 2020.

Britain is blessed with enough sites already licensed for nuclear plants to allow a faster roll out of new capacity. In 2020 the government should replace its current piecemeal strategy with an invitation to companies to tender for building at least 10 GW.

This bolder approach will drive down costs and enable a strong supply chain industry to grow. The jobs it will create will win trade union support. Export opportunities will follow.

Starting the commissioning process in 2020 for more base load power will strengthen energy security just as the switch to electric vehicles and rapid growth in electricity intensive data processing technologies increases demand. Finally in 2020 the government should reiterate consistent strong support for Britain’s involvement in the development of small and advanced reactors.

Britain’s new government has an unique opportunity to ensure its climate commitments are met safely and cheaply in a way which also delivers economic benefits. What better example can the host of the landmark CoP 26 set its guests?

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