UKERC response to: A low-carbon pathway for Wales

05 Oct 2018

Welsh Government Consultation: Achieving our low-carbon pathway to 2030

Welsh Government are required by law to reduce their emissions by at least 80% in 2050. The consultation Achieving our low-carbon pathway to 2030 presented initial thoughts on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% between now and 2030.

Proposals included:

  • accelerating sustainable energy production and foster local ownership
  • improving opportunities for active travel and develop a comprehensive charging network for electric vehicles
  • setting higher energy efficiency standards for new building projects.
     
Summary of UKERC response

The Welsh Government's consultation on the potential actions required to reduce emissions to 2030 are welcome, particularly in the international context of decarbonising the economy and the challenges posed by climate change.

The consultation document is right to highlight the differences between Wales and the UK as a whole, as these differences will present both challenges and opportunities. Wales is dominated by heavy industry, with a higher share of homes off the gas grid, and typically older less efficient vehicle stock. These latter two characteristics also provide opportunities to target actions and achieve significant emissions reductions.  

Whilst the consultation document is concerned with developing actions to 2030, this sits within the context of an 80% carbon reduction target by 2050, we would therefore like to see greater ambition in plans laying the groundwork to reaching this target. The 2015 Paris Agreement effectively commits the UK to stricter long-term targets, in effect to reach net-zero emissions by the second half of the Century. In so far as many decisions taken now will have consequences well beyond 2030, the emergence of this long-term target should not be lost when making assessments of the ambition of action in Wales.  

Consideration of the priority areas for Wales should take place against a recognition of the interdependencies between Wales and the UK, and the limited policy levers available to Welsh Government with many policies and regulations implemented at a UK or EU level. Because of this, there is a large emphasis on planning and co-ordination in the document to reduce emissions. In our view there are more opportunities to be exploited to reduce energy demand in Wales through energy efficiency, whilst increasing the use of local sources of supply where that makes economic sense.

Citizen engagement

Whilst the consultation recognizes the need to involve citizens in the energy transition, the focus appears mainly to be on behavioural change, and with very little detail provided on how this change in practice might be achieved. Here UKERC would recommend a broader strategy which also includes citizen engagement, enabling communities to play a central role in the low carbon transition. Welsh Government should consider adopting a longer-term strategy here. We note, for example, the Scottish Government’s recently launched Just Transitions Commission. This will advise Scottish Government on its decarbonisation plans, considering how they can deliver fair work and tackle inequalities as the industrial landscape that is currently dependent upon the oil and gas industry evolves towards a low carbon economy through a "sustainable and inclusive labour market”. Given Wales’ current dependence in some locations upon high-carbon industries, some of which will see significant changes between now and 2030, the assessment of wider issues that arise here for affected Welsh communities would seem desirable.

A whole systems approach

We urge the Welsh Government to make a high-level commitment to a ‘whole systems’ approach to the energy transition and low carbon future within Wales. This approach is central to UKERC’s energy research and policy advice. It considers all components of the energy system and their interactions - including supply, networks and demand. It also considers the relationships between the technical, economic, policy, social and environmental dimensions of energy system change in an integrated way.

An important example of the importance of systems framing is the integration of intermittent renewables in electricity systems. UKERC research has highlighted how the contribution of intermittent renewables in energy system change can only be understood by reference to the wider energy system context, and the capacity of the wider system to absorb intermittency through storage, demand management and response, and interconnection. In practice, whole systems analysis and policymaking are both highly challenging, particularly at a time of high technical, economic and political change and uncertainty. In the context of devolution it should also not be forgotten that in an integrated UK energy system, widespread measures which are wholly or in part devolved to the Welsh Government (e.g. some energy efficiency measures coupled with growth of local energy generation) will have knock-on implications for those which are not (e.g. provision of grid connection and balancing services, major energy supply infrastructures etc.). For this, some level of whole systems analysis is essential.