Introduction

AuthorWilliam Webster
Pages1-16

Chapter 1

Introduction

SCOPE OF INTRODUCTION

1.1 This book is concerned with the law and regulation of electricity generation of the two most popular sources of energy collected from renewable resources. The scope of this chapter is essentially to provide a wider context for the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) record in generating renewable electricity from solar and wind power. The chapter starts with an overview on climate change and the UK’s record in dealing with this in recent years. Key issues addressed include UK energy policy, the sources of energy that are available to the UK from fossil fuels and renewables, and the national and international efforts intended to bring about a progressive shift from fossil fuels to low carbon electricity.

CLIMATE CHANGE

1.2 The obvious driver for the rapid growth of electricity generated from renewable sources is climate change. It is not the function of this book to delve into the science of global warming, but experts now recognise that unless urgent steps are taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions1global warming could cause the Earth’s surface temperature to give rise to potentially harmful effects on ecosystems, biodiversity and human livelihoods.

1.3 At current emission rates, global warming is predicted to rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052. This is the conclusion of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC published on 8 October 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (‘the report’). The report includes over 6,000 scientific references and was prepared by 91 authors from

1The primary greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20) and trospheric ozone (O3). Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of the Earth’s surface would be about –18°C rather than the present average of 15°C.

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40 countries. The report was called for at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015 and was delivered at the United Nations’ 48th session of the IPCC to provide an authoritative, scientific guide for governments to deal with climate change.

1.4 According to the IPCC report, even if global warming was limited to 1.5°C there would still be increased risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. Impacts would include reduction in crop yields and nutritional quality. Livestock would also be affected with rising temperatures through changes in feed quality, spread of diseases and water resource availability. Risks from some diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are also projected to increase. The report suggests that limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared to 2°C, could reduce the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and susceptibility to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C global sea levels are still expected to rise. Should it exceed this the report suggests that irreversible instabilities could be triggered in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets resulting in a rise in sea levels by several metres. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is also projected to prevent the thawing over centuries of a permafrost area in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 million km2. The report’s predictions also extend to wholesale damage to ecosystems, including to fisheries, coral reefs, insects, plants and vertebrates. For instance, approximately 4% or 13% of global terrestrial land area is projected to undergo a transformation of its ecosystems of one kind or another at temperature rises of 1°C or 2°C respectively. The report’s key finding is that steps should be taken to limit global warming below or close to a target of 1.5°C, which would require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of around 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. However, even just for limiting global warming to below 2°C, emissions would still have to decline by 25% by 2030 and by 100% by 2075.

1.5 The principal attack on greenhouse gas emissions comes from the shift away from fossil fuels in the generation of electricity.2By January 2020 the UK had cut its emissions by around two-fifths since 1990 with almost all of its recent progress coming from the electricity sector. Emissions from electricity generation have fallen rapidly in the decade since 2010 as coal power has been almost phased out and even gas output has declined. Fossil fuels have been displaced by falling

2The National Grid announced in May 2020 that wind and solar power was producing 28% of the UK’s power generation, which was only just behind gas-fired power generation which made up 30% of the UK’s energy mix. Since April 2020 the UK’s electricity system has run without its last remaining coal plants for 54 consecutive days, which had helped the carbon intensity of the electricity grid to fall to 143 grams of CO2 per kWh. The lowest carbon intensity ever was recorded at 46 grams of CO2 per kWh on 24 May. It was reported by the head of the National Grid’s control centre that May was the first calendar month of electricity generation without coal ‘since the Industrial Revolution’.

demand and by renewables, such as wind, solar and biomass. What is most noteworthy, however, is that the UK’s wind farms overtook nuclear for the first time ever in 2019, becoming the country’s second-largest source of electricity generation.

THE UK’S RECORD ON CLIMATE CHANGE

1.6 The UK has a moderate to good record when it comes to climate change. Under the Climate Change Act 2008 legally binding targets were set to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The key provision was the commitment to cut emissions by at least 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. The Act also requires the government to publish carbon targets setting five-yearly caps on greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve such targets the government had to take immediate steps to decarbonise electricity generation by introducing a strategy of shifting progressively from fossil fuels to low carbon electricity. This has been the clear achievement of the last decade with around 75% of emissions’ reductions since 2012 coming from the power sector. Indeed, such is their growing popularity, onshore wind and solar power developments are likely to be cheaper than gas plants by the 2020s. Another key provision of the Climate Change Act 2008 was the establishment of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to advise the government and to report annually to Parliament on the UK’s efforts to reduce emissions.

1.7 The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced by the government in 2012 and contained extensive planning policy on climate change at Part 10 to inform plan-making and decision-making. The current revision of the NPPF (issued in 2019) (to which extensive reference is made later) deals with climate change at Part 14 at paragraphs 149–154.3In terms of the implications of the revised NPPF for planning for climate change, these are the areas of interest:

(a) The revised NPPF retains the link between planning policy and the Planning Act 2008 (PA 2008), which means that all local plans must set a carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reduction target and lay out clear ways of measuring progress on CO2 emissions reduction.4

3Special mention should be made of the report of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Rising to the

Climate Crisis – A Guide for Local Authorities on Planning for Climate Change (2nd edn) (December 2018).

4PA 2008, s.18D, concerns development plan documents and climate change policies. The section provides that in Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, s.19 (preparation of local development plan documents) after subs.(1) the following section should be inserted: ‘(1A) Development plan documents must (taken as a whole) include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority's area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.’

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(b) Guidance on viability testing has been rebalanced, creating more opportunity for policy that might address climate change.

(c) There is still confusion about the scope of planning authorities to set ambitious targets beyond the Building Regulations on energy efficiency.

(d) There is nothing to stop local plans adopting requirements for on-site renewable energy generation.

1.8 The Paris Agreement involved the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which dealt with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation...

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