Government announces ambitious new carbon reduction targets

The UK has just set a carbon reduction goal that reaches beyond the standard deadline of 2020, declaring that it wishes to cut carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2025. However, it remains to be seen whether other countries will follow suit.

The 20-20-20 targets originally set out by the EU aim to see a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels, 20 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources and a 20-per cent improvement in energy production efficiency. It is now generally agreed, however, that a 20 per cent target is not sufficiently ambitious and that many of the member states should easily be able to hit – and even exceed it.

The UK, for example, is currently aiming to achieve a 34 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, in accordance with the 2009 Low Carbon Transition Plan. According to the 2008 Climate Change Act, the overall aim is an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

The UK’s most recent carbon budget – its fourth – calls for carbon dioxide emissions in 2025 to be 50 per cent lower than in 1990.

Any country with low-carbon aspirations tends to find that the early carbon reductions are the easiest. There are always inefficiencies that can be addressed with minimal effort. However, as 2050 approaches and carbon emission targets become more ambitious, more resistance is to be expected from high-emitting industries like the steel industry. This is already evident in the UK, with much talk of a get-out clause being put in place.

The Treasury also typically opposes carbon emission restrictions due to the potential impact on economic competitiveness, particularly after a financial crisis. However, despite these concerns, the economic benefits of implementing a low-carbon economy are becoming better understood, with pioneering EU member states such as Germany demonstrating the effectiveness of heavy investment in carbon reduction efforts. It should be noted, however, that even Germany has not extended its targets beyond 2020 at this point.

To develop low-carbon economies in the long run requires structured plans for getting there. While it’s fine to aim for reduced emissions, strategies also need to be both doable and economically feasible. With that in mind, expect to see European countries soon following the UK in setting longer-term targets. The best targets, after all, are those which are always just out of reach. From there, nations can continue raising the bar until emissions are negligible.

With developing nations focused more strongly on economic growth for now, developed economies will have to take the lead. It’s their responsibility to set the standards that can eventually drive more and more countries toward a low-carbon future.

Recycling Lives’ carbon reduction and renewable energy technology division is working hard to support government carbon reduction initiatives. The company is working with large organisations including housing associations and local authorities to ensure that low-energy development is the first choice wherever possible. Our range of eco-retrofit products such as solar PV, solar thermal and heat pumps, from a range of the top industry suppliers, are helping to change the face of social and private housing across the UK; our low-carbon energy solutions can be applied to old and new housing stock and offer a great alternative energy source for off-grid properties.

Our carbon reduction and renewable energy technology division fully supports the UK’s new, more ambitious carbon reduction targets. While it is understandably harder for high carbon-emitting industries such as steel and manufacturing to welcome these carbon reduction targets, we are choosing to lead by example. Our own business divisions, at the heart of the traditionally high-emitting industries of recycling, waste management and scrap metal processing, are based around the concept of sustainability and we make every effort to ensure that our supply chain and processes are environmentally responsible. Our offices are lit by low carbon LED lighting and we work with a nationwide network of suppliers and transport companies to cut the carbon emissions we produce. Recycling Lives is reaching towards a zero waste target this year, with renewed efforts to embrace waste to energy technologies, and we hope to inspire other companies within the sector to do the same.