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The UK government has today set out how it will go "further and faster" to tackle climate change - four months after the country became the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050. It has also introduced its new Environment Bill to Parliament, which it says signals "a historic step change in the way we protect and enhance our precious natural environment".

BEIS Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom (Image: BEIS)

The bill outlines proposals to strengthen the UK's standards of environmental protection post-Brexit with the establishment of a new public body - the Office for Environmental Protection - which will also hold government and other public bodies to account on their environmental obligations, including on climate change. While the Bill applies only to England, more than half of its measures are designed to apply across the UK, with the consent of devolved administrations, helping the nation deal with the major environmental challenges faced together. These include improving air and water quality, tackling plastic pollution and restoring habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive. Legislation will also create legally-binding environmental improvement targets.

The proposed legislation is unlikely to become law soon because of an expected general election in the coming weeks or months.

Bold step

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today announced a separate package of energy efficiency measures for businesses which it says could save them GBP1.0 billion (USD1.3 billion) a year in energy bills by 2030. They include plans to accelerate the decarbonisation of transport, including automotive, freight and rail, and stronger governance to drive further climate action across government.

BEIS Secretary Andrea Leadsom noted that the UK has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 42% since 1990, while growing its economy by more than two-thirds.

"More than half of our electricity currently comes from low-carbon sources. And we will keep on going further and faster to ensure our action meets our ambition," she said.

Since legislating for net zero, the government has committed more than GBP2 billion to support decarbonisation in sectors across the economy from industry to transport. These measures include, among others, plans to use new financing models to roll out more new nuclear power generation capacity, including up to GBP18 million for the UK's first "mini nuclear reactor" to be operational in the early 2030s; and GBP222 million investment in a fusion reactor design programme.

Further details on how the UK will make progress towards the 2050 net-zero target is expected in the National Infrastructure Strategy this autumn.

BEIS has also published its responses to the parliamentary Committee on Climate Change's (CCC) 2019 progress reports on reducing UK emissions and on preparing for climate change.

Financing new nuclear

In July, the government opened for consultation its assessment of a new financing model aimed at reducing the cost of new nuclear power plant projects by having consumers pay upfront through their energy bills. A solution is needed urgently because nuclear energy is seen as a vital part of the government's commitment to cutting the country's carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Seven of the UK’s eight existing nuclear plants are set to be retired by 2030.

Noting that the consultation period ended yesterday, the UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) said consumers could pay “significantly less” for low-carbon electricity from future nuclear power plants as a result of the proposed Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model. This encourages investment into major infrastructure projects by delivering reliable returns, at a reduced rate, before a plant is operational. The NIA said this reduces the need for large-scale, long-term borrowing at high interest rates, which significantly increases the cost of power.

"The risk of going over budget is far outweighed by the potential reduction of financing costs which have a huge effect on bills," Tom Greatrex, CEO of the NIA, said. "This makes the RAB a potential win-win for consumers and investors, in addition to helping us meet our national energy and climate goals."

Also in July, the CCC advised that to reach net zero by 2050, 38% of the UK’s power generation needs to come from 'firm' low-carbon power, like nuclear power, which provides around 20% of the UK's electricity and over a third of all low-carbon electricity.

The government will now begin reviewing the submissions to its consultation and will announce the next steps in the coming months.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Wednesday, 16 October 2019
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