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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Planning Act 2008 / 894: Getting to net zero and infrastructure implications

Today’s entry examines how the government is intending to get the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and what this means for infrastructure projects.

I have just finished reading Bill Gates’s book How to Avoid A Climate Disaster, where he sets out a blueprint for the world to get to net zero – Western democracies being given a target date of 2050, which is what the UK has legislated for. This is timely because the UK is half way to net zero compared with 1990 in half of the time, according to this article, although perhaps 2020 was a special case.

Usefully, he divides current emissions into five areas and tackles each separately. These correspond to three government departments and two halves of a fourth department, and here is what the government is doing about each. An overall ‘Net Zero Strategy’ is expected later this year, some time before the global climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Manufacturing

Industrial processes account for 31% of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases globally – things like making steel and cement, as well as manufacturing finished goods. The ‘Industrial Strategy’ part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS – ‘bays’) issued an ‘Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy’ this week, which can be found here.

The core of the strategy is to focus on decarbonising the main industrial clusters in the UK by reducing their emissions and removing what is left via a series of pipelines to be buried under the sea. The clusters will require the shortest network of pipelines as the factories and plants are close together.

Part one of the strategy focuses on incentives for investors and consumers to choose low carbon industrial technology; Part two looks at the industrial processes themselves including this cluster idea; and Part three looks at getting the most economic benefit out of leading in this area.

Action 4.7 in Part two is about ‘Project Speed’ – ensure planning reforms brought forward as part of Project Speed support the delivery of low carbon infrastructure. This is the programme to reduce the time some NSIPs take from entering the system to being determined by 50% by September 2023. What ‘some’ and ‘entering the system’ are not fully clear at the moment, and I would suggest ‘to being implemented’ would be a better endpoint than determined, since (a) it is easier to shorten and (b) is better for speeding up projects.

Not coincidentally on the same day UK Research and Innovation announced the awarding of grants for nine projects to assist CO2 and hydrogen pipeline projects (five projects really, given some are the onshore and offshore elements of the same project), following a competition held last year. The list can be found here. The South Wales Industrial Cluster was awarded £19,999,997 – they just couldn’t justify that last £3.

Electricity

The second largest source of emissions is electricity generation – 27%. The Energy part of BEIS issued the Energy White Paper in December last year and the first part of this deals with decarbonising generation. The main thrust is to increase offshore wind from the 2030 target of 30GW to 40GW, support a new nuclear project getting to Final Investment Decision stage by 2025 and capture carbon being emitted by any remaining fossil fuel generation. The latter part overlaps with industrial decarbonisation because a lot of fossil fuel generation is in the same areas as heavy industry.

Agriculture

The third source is agriculture – 19%. This isn’t CO2 so much but other (even more damaging) gases such as methane, produced by cow burps and farts (euphemistically known as ‘enteric fermentation’), plus use of manure and fertiliser. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) doesn’t have an Agricultural Decarbonisation Plan that I can see, but the Climate Change Committee has produced a document Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK that covers agriculture. The uncomfortable truth is that we are going to need to eat less beef, lamb and dairy produce if we are to make an impact in this area (see page 11).

Transport

The fourth source is transport – 16%. The Department for Transport (DfT) is issuing a Transport Decarbonisation Plan imminently which will do for transport what the industrial one is doing for industry. It is likely to have policies to convert cars and other small vehicles to being fully electric, and larger vehicles to using zero carbon fuels like hydrogen.

The trickiest transport mode to become zero carbon is aviation – it takes a lot of energy to get those things in the air – and this week the Jet Zero (geddit?) Council issued a £15 million competition to reduce aviation emissions – entries to be in by 31 May. Is ‘Green Fuel, Green Skies’ the best slogan? In other news, the government is cutting the electric car subsidy from £3,000 to £2,500, which hasn’t gone down well.

Homes

The final source is domestic heating, cooling and cooking – (likely to be higher in the UK) 7%. This is covered by chapter four of the Energy White Paper although is probably more under the purview of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). This area will probably affect the things people use every day the most. Gas central heating will be out, heat pumps (a sort of reverse fridge) are in – the government is considering not connecting new houses to gas supplies from 2025. Cookers will have to change fuel source and the government is intending to consult later this year on appliances having to be ‘hydrogen ready’.

So two parts of BEIS, Defra, the DfT and MHCLG have their work cut out, plus the Treasury will play its part in incentivising net zero behaviour, making sure it isn’t too expensive and that the costs don’t fall inequitably. A lot of the other sections rely on converting to more electricity use, making the decarbonisation of generation all the more important.

What does this mean for infrastructure planning? Clearly offshore wind, CO2 and hydrogen pipeline DCOs are going to be needed, and if adding carbon capture technology to a fossil fuel power station counts as extending it (which it does if it involves land and is regarded as for a purpose directly relating to the generation of electricity) then conversion project DCOs will too.

More indirectly the positive or negative contribution of all projects to net zero is likely to come under increased scrutiny (especially projects that threaten achievement of net zero), and Project Speed will be a chance to change the process for the better, including aligning it in legal and guidance terms with what actually happens given 10 years of experience.

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