Like most of us, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) sees the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as an urgent call to save the planet from terrible environmental degradation in just two decades.
While the report (1) outlines in detail the real risks of temperatures rising by 2 degrees Celsius by 2038 could be, it also positively raises the benefits if that temperature rise can be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. Such an endeavour requires significant economic resources, political consistency and societal change on an unprecedented level. Local government’s role is crucial for providing leadership in this area and there are many excellent examples around the world of how towns and cities are showing such leadership. (2)
A key area of the change required comes in the area of energy. The IPCC report notes that by 2050 85% of our electricity should be provided by renewables, with coal use close to zero. However, as the NFLA’s report on climate change and the need for decentralised, renewable solutions has noted, the UK Government’s Clean Growth Strategy will only achieve 94% of the emissions reductions required by 2027 and only 90% by 2032 to keep the country on the path to achieve an 80% target in 2050. In other words, further measures will be required even to meet the 80% target by 2050. The Republic of Ireland has similar difficult issues to overcome in meeting its targets. And this was before the new IPCC report called for even more ambitious targets from national governments. (3)
Much debate takes place on what the low carbon energy mix should be, with the UK Government and others suggesting nuclear should be a key part of this. Yet, the urgency of the IPCC report weakens that report considerably.
At present, there are real concerns that existing UK nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their generating lives, with Hunterston B for example closed for an extended period due to concerns over keyhole cracks to the graphite bricks surrounding its reactor. There remains also only one new nuclear power site being actively developed, at Hinkley Point C, but ongoing delays with identical reactors being constructed by EDF in Finland and France suggest it will be a real struggle to get this reactor built before the end of the 2020s. Like Hinkley Point C, Wylfa B also has significant financial and technical issues to overcome and other proposed sites, and the possibility of small modular reactors, do not look likely to be realised until well into the 2030s and beyond. We simply do not have the time to wait. Renewable energy therefore has to become the central plank of UK and Irish energy policy as part of the plans to deliver the low carbon targets required by 2038 and 2050.
NFLA notes that the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) says: “It is now possible to conceive of a low-cost electricity system that is principally powered by renewable energy sources.” It says at least 50% and up to 65% of electricity in 2030 should come from renewables. The average cost of this highly renewable system between 2030 and 2050 would be comparable to investing heavily in new nuclear. However, it recommends a focus on wind and solar, where costs are more likely to fall even faster than expected. This conclusion applies whether heat is predominantly supplied by electric heat pumps or whether it is met using low-carbon hydrogen and biomass. (4)
NFLA believes therefore that new nuclear will come in too late and action needs to be taken now – not just before or after 2030. As part of this, local authorities should be at the centre of an emergency programme of energy efficiency; developing renewable heat networks and building an electric vehicle infrastructure. With their network of public buildings, leisure centres, schools and so forth, with council vehicle fleets and in their role as social landlords, local authorities are ideally placed to lead by example.
NFLA’s recent report (and previous reports) on decentralised energy show a large number of exciting examples across all areas of local government in the UK and Ireland committing and developing to major cuts in carbon emissions, renewable electricity schemes, low carbon housing, community energy schemes, the introduction of innovative ‘smart’ energy schemes, renewable heat and renewable transport. (5) This is being undertaken despite it enduring the most austere of times in the history of local government. Think what more can be achieved in a stronger partnership with central government? The urgency of this challenge means that tackling climate change has to be a core response for all Councils. NFLA will continue to highlight and advocate the most effective best practice examples of how this can be achieved.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
“The IPCC report provides a sobering and let’s be honest frightening scenario of how the world could look if we all do not work together to deliver deep cuts in carbon emissions. In our view, the sheer cost and complexity of delivering new nuclear means its role in this project is getting in the way of more effective action. The UK and Irish Governments have to prioritise renewable energy and support local government in a concerted effort to deliver decentralised energy programmes, energy efficiency and energy storage schemes. NFLA will continue to highlight the cutting edge schemes which are delivering rapid change now and in the future. We call on all Councils to be involved in this national and international endeavour to ensure future generations are not harmed by the failure of too limited activity now.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC (SR15), October 2018
(2) C40, ‘Focused acceleration: A strategic approach to climate action in cities to 2030’, November 2017
(3) NFLA Policy Briefing 175, ‘Decentralised energy and the climate change imperative’, May 2018
(4) Carbon Brief, 10th July 2018
(5) See reference (3)