What is decarbonisation?
Decarbonisation refers to the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), in order to mitigate climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy. The UK has been at the forefront of global efforts to decarbonise and has set ambitious targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
But the reality is that there are always trade-offs to be made. We should take it that some of these targets will not be met.
Decarbonisation involves various Government Departments and most industry sectors.
Legislation and guidance
Several key legislations in the UK are relevant to decarbonisation efforts. The most important acts and regulations, directed at the construction industry and others are:
Climate Change Act 2008
This legislation sets the framework for the UK’s long-term climate change targets. It establishes legally binding carbon budgets, which determine the maximum amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit over five-year periods. The Act also created the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to provide advice and monitor progress towards meeting the targets.
Energy Act 2013
This Act introduced measures to promote the decarbonisation of the energy sector. It established the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, which provides financial incentives for low-carbon electricity generation, including renewables. The Act also granted powers to the Secretary of State to set decarbonisation targets and implement measures to improve energy efficiency.
In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass a law requiring net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This means that the country aims to balance the amount of greenhouse gases emitted with the amount removed from the atmosphere.
The Government has also set interim targets, including a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.
The Pubic Sector Decarbonisation Scheme aims to reduce emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037.
Restructuring Government Departments
In 2023, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was split into:
- The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ)
- The Department for Business and Trade (DBT)
- The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)
The UK has made significant progress in expanding renewable energy sources. Offshore wind power has been a particular success, with the UK having the largest installed capacity globally.
The Government has been supporting offshore wind projects through financial incentives and contracts for difference (CfDs). These provide long-term price guarantees for electricity generated from renewable sources.
Phasing out Coal
The UK has been phasing out coal-fired power plants as part of its decarbonisation efforts. The last coal-fired power station in the country will cease operation in 2024, marking a significant milestone in the transition to cleaner energy sources.
The UK is promoting the adoption of low-emission vehicles to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. The Government has set a target to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, although this is at risk at present.
There are also various incentives and grants available to support the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs), including grants for purchasing EVs and expanding charging infrastructure.
Improving energy efficiency in buildings is a key aspect of decarbonisation. The UK has implemented various policies and programs to incentivise energy-efficient upgrades, such as the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating system, which provides information about a building’s energy efficiency.
The UK has a carbon pricing mechanism known as the Carbon Price Floor, which sets a minimum price on carbon emissions from power generation. This mechanism helps to create a financial incentive for power producers to reduce their emissions.
Research and Innovation
The UK is actively investing in research and innovation to develop and deploy new technologies for decarbonisation. This includes funding for projects related to carbon capture, utilisation, storage (CCUS), hydrogen production,infrastructure, and advanced renewable energy systems.
These are just a few examples of the efforts being made in the UK to achieve decarbonisation.
The transition to a low-carbon economy requires a multi-faceted approach involving Government policies, private sector initiatives, public sector initiatives and individual actions by ordinary citizens, to reduce emissions and promote decarbonisation.
For more information on decarbonisation and achieving net-zero carbon in your organisation, have a look at our guide on Refurbishment in a “Net-Zero Carbon” Era.