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Government set to miss 2020 renewable energy targets

The government’s environmental track record has come under fresh fire as MPs warn Whitehall will miss 2020 renewable energy targets unless ministers change tack.

A report by the energy and climate change committee warns the UK will miss its long-standing target of sourcing 15% of its energy from renewable sources, unless it takes urgent action, particularly around renewable heat and transport.

The 2020 target, which comes from the EU’s 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, has three sub-categories – 30% of electricity, 12% of heat and 10% in transport.

The report notes that while the UK is three-quarters of the way towards its electricity targets, the proportion of renewable energy used in transport fell last year, from 4.93% to 4.23%.

‘The experts we spoke to were clear,’ said committee chair, Angus MacNeil. ‘The UK will miss its 2020 renewable energy targets without major policy improvements.’

In November last year, a leaked letter from the-then energy secretary, Amber Rudd to other ministers admitted the government did not have the right policies in place to meet some of these energy targets.

The letter reportedly said the UK was on course to achieve around 11.5% of its overall energy from renewables.

The committee singled out the government’s proposed reforms to the Renewable Heat Incentive as a cause for concern, and recommended the scheme be changed to give more financial support to biomethane and biomass boilers.

It also called on the government to increase the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation cap, which limits the amount of fuel suppliers can use from renewable sources. The committee said the cap has been frozen at 4.75% since 2013 and currently falls ‘well below the level needed’ to meet the 2020 target. It also recommends introducing the E10 ethanol-based unleaded petrol into the UK’s fuel mix to help meet the 10% renewable target.

Greater ambition needed

The committee warned the recent abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the ‘bundling it’ into the new Whitehall Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could mean some issues could be ‘buried by conflicting concerns’.

‘We agreed our 2020 renewable energy targets as part of the EU, but they still have many merits, even as the UK government prepares for Brexit,’ added Mr MacNeil.

‘If the UK reneges on these targets, it will undermine confidence in the government’s commitment to clean energy and the climate targets agreed in Paris.’

The chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), Nina Skorupska, said meeting the 2020 energy targets is a ‘no regrets policy’ as supporting renewable heat and transport will be ‘critical’ to meeting future carbon reduction targets.

‘In the past week, the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, formally committed to long-term decarbonisation by signing the Paris Climate Agreement,’ said Dr Skorupska.

‘The scale of low-carbon investment that we can expect in the coming decades is in the trillions of dollars, globally. It is therefore critical, as this report highlights, that renewables and decarbonisation are at the heart of the government’s future industrial strategy.’

The REA’s head of renewable transport, Clare Wenner, added the transport industry is ‘ready to deliver if the government increases its ambition’, which could be done by raising target levels, introducing E10 and increasing support for electric vehicles.

The government said the committee was wrong to claim the UK is legally bound to meet a 12% target for heat within the 2020 renewable energy targets, arguing there is no sub-target for heat.

A government spokesperson said: ‘Our priority is providing secure, affordable and clean energy for families and businesses. Renewable energy already makes up around 25% of our electricity and we’re on track to hit our overall targets. The latest Climate Change Performance Index shows the UK is the second best country in the world on tackling climate change.’

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