Recession Spurs UK Carbon Reduction

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Carbon reduction progress is too slow, according to the second annual Parliamentary report, but the recession has given it a boost

The recession has almost done more to reduce UK carbon emissions than any other action, according to a new report.

The government-appointed Committee on Climate Change yesterday published its second annual report to Parliament on the progress made in reducing emissions and meeting carbon budgets as required under the 2008 Climate Change Act.

It found CO2 emissions fell by only 0.6 percent annually in the period before the recession, relative to 2-3 percent annual cuts required in the period to 2020 to meet current carbon budgets.

Recession prompts emissions cuts

Overall, UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.9 percent in 2008 and 8.6 percent in 2009. But this was mainly due to the recession and other exogenous factors, like fuel price rises discouraging people to use their cars.

“Going forward, therefore, a step change in the pace of emissions reduction is needed,” the report stated.

While it noted that this report only comes weeks into the new coalition government’s first term, it recommended further public and private sector action to speed emissions reductions – particularly as the European Union (EU) eyes even greater targets.

In assessing the government’s progress towards achieving emissions reductions in four key areas of power, buildings and industry, transport and agriculture, the report however contained little that would directly affect IT markets.

But, given the role new IT systems already have to play in meeting Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) regulations, the suggestion of introducing an interim carbon price floor, in the absence of EU-wide action and electricity market reform, could impact the CRC’s Energy Efficiency scheme league table, currently being compiled.

Electricity market reform

Electricity market reform also figured highly on the Committee report’s agenda. That, with carbon pricing and a focus on the energy efficiency of buildings, led Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne to predict: “This Government will be the greenest ever”.

In initial response to the report, Huhne said: “As the Climate Change Committee makes clear, we mustn’t rely on economic recession to cut emissions. There has to be an enduring shift to low carbon, driving growth in new technologies, and it must be locked into the fabric of our economy in good times and bad.”

The minister restated the Emergency Budget pledge, among other things, to create a Green Investment Bank to help low carbon investment, and its commitment to cut central government emissions by 10 percent within a year.

He added that the government will report back on progress later this year.

Further government intervention needed

Simon Mingay, Gartner research vice president commented that main takeaway from the report was the lack of required step change, mandating further government intervention to incentivise the right investment behaviours.

“So for most enterprises that probably equates to changes in tax breaks like HMRC’s Enhanced Capital Allowances,” he said. “If they are not already doing so enterprises need to engage tax advisors early energy efficiency and carbon reduction projects to ensure they can take advantage of any worthwhile tax breaks. This will increasingly include smart building technologies enabled by ICT.”

The other interesting IT angle Mingay called out was the success of the Smart Choices initiative, in which flexible working is seen as making a positive contribution to reduced travel. “But organisations looking at flexible working through an environmental lens need to make sure they get away from the ‘one-person, one-desk’ culture and move toward desk ‘hoteling’,” he warned. “If they don’t, the net impact will probably be carbon positive.”

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