Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Government to miss 2020 renewable energy targets

MPs on the Energy and Climate Change Committee have warned the Government that, on its current course, the UK will fail to achieve its 2020 renewable energy targets—to provide for 15% of its energy needs from renewable sources.

The overall obligation includes three sub-targets: 30% in electricity, 12% in heat and 10% in transport. The UK is three-quarters of the way towards its 30% electricity sub-target and is expected to exceed it by 2020, but it is not yet halfway towards 12% in heat and the proportion of renewable energy used in transport actually fell last year.

Energy and Climate Change Committee Chair Angus MacNeil MP said:

"The experts we spoke to were clear: the UK will miss its 2020 renewable energy targets without major policy improvements. Failing to meet these would damage the UK’s reputation for climate change leadership. The Government must take urgent action on heat and transport to renew its efforts on decarbonisation."

The report identifies a number of ways in which the key policies to meet the heat and transport targets—the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO)—could be improved. 

Renewable heat

The Government's proposed reforms to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) are not the optimal pathway to the 2020 renewable heat target. Many heat pumps have proven unsatisfactory in actual use, yet are being prioritised over biomass—which has been successful. Biomethane is also crucial to meeting the 2020 target and must remain a funding priority. The Government should revise its RHI reforms to reflect these priorities, especially in protecting biomethane support.

Renewable transport fuels

The UK's journey towards its 10% transport target reversed between 2014 and 2015, when the proportion of renewable energy fell from 4.93% to 4.23%. The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) has been capped at 4.75% since 2013. This is well below the level needed to meet the 2020 target. The Committee therefore recommends that the level of the RTFO be raised without delay. 

Closing the Department of Energy and Climate Change 

Recent changes to the Machinery of Government could present opportunities for low-carbon and renewable energy policy, the report notes. Closing the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and bundling it into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will, at best, enable more joined-up thinking on a low-carbon economy and place clean growth at the heart of a more influential Department. However, at worst, the Committee warns, energy and climate change issues could be buried by conflicting concerns.

Beyond 2020

Beyond 2020, heat and transport will likely depend on some combination of bioenergy and electrification. Bioenergy has an important role in the UK's future energy mix, but there are concerns about its carbon footprint. Electrification is therefore key. However, in heat, it is clear that the Government cannot rely on complete electrification—especially given limits to electricity-network capacity.

Central to the Government's plans for transport electrification is an aim for all new cars to be ultra-low emission by 2040 (presently, only 1.1% are). To achieve this ambition, it should consider re-introducing a tiered system of Vehicle Excise Duty to restore incentives for electric cars and other ultra low emission vehicles. 

Leaving the EU

Leaving the EU renders the status of the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets uncertain. But the MPs believe that if the UK misses or reneges on these commitments, it will undermine confidence in the Government’s commitment to its legally binding 2050 carbon targets. The Government must recommit to the 2020 targets or, if necessary, set replacement targets to support the longer-term decarbonisation objectives of the Climate Change Act. 

Angus MacNeil MP:

"We agreed our 2020 renewable energy targets as part of the EU but they still have many merits, even as the UK Government prepares for Brexit. If the UK reneges on these targets, it will undermine confidence in the Government’s commitment to clean energy and the climate targets agreed in Paris. Progress has been slow, but this must be taken as a call to action, not an excuse for backtrack."

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