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Carbon budget for growth and prosperity

Malcolm Chilton

Malcolm Chilton explains what the Government’s Fourth Carbon Budget means for waste to energy.

In line with advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change, proposals for legal targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were announced last month. The limit on emissions will be set under the Fourth Carbon Budget required under the Climate Change Act 2008 and if accepted, will become law by the end of June.

In a Ministerial Statement, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne set emission limits for a five year period between 2023 and 2027. In proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% over 1990 levels, this reduction has been considered as one of the most ambitious, legally-binding target for any developed country.

While ambitious, especially in this difficult financial climate, these targets are achievable. Recommendations made in the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s 2011 Carbon Plan make plain how alternative technologies, such as Energy-from-Waste (EfW), Combined Heat and Power (CHP), anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis, can aid the UK in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Proven EfW technology demonstrates how recovering the energy value of residual wastes can be both environmentally and financially valuable in meeting the requirements of the Climate Change Act.

The Government has stated that it will aim to reduce emissions domestically as far as practical and affordable. Huhne fought hard to secure cabinet backing for his statement and has had to underpin his ambition with a commitment that the proposed targets will not “imply any additional near-term costs”. That is a commitment which, if incorrect, could derail the UK’s low-carbon industrial transformation, as it opens the door to possible future downward revision of targets.

It is therefore unfortunate that the Committee on Climate Change has not yet fully considered the effect that using EfW technology to its full potential could have on energy and climate change policies. As a reliable and sustainable source of energy, EfW is already at the heart of many low carbon schemes and if it was properly recognised, the task of meeting the proposed targets would be significantly easier.

In his statement, Huhne makes clear that rising electricity costs will pose the main threat to these latest targets. As part of a transition to a low carbon economy, energy intensive industries need to remain competitive during and after the transition. For waste that cannot be reused or recycled, EfW can provide a valuable resource through heat, electricity and transport fuels. Importantly, it can also complement recycling for both small and large scale waste streams.

The UK is currently on track to meet the first three carbon budgets, yet it is clear that to achieve the proposed 2027 efficiencies more will be need to be done to protect the country’s energy framework in an era when the oil price is volatile. As Huhne states in the closing lines of his statement: “It is a framework not just for action on climate but for growth and prosperity.” In other words, if the right decisions are made on the path to ‘green growth’ we could not only reform the UK energy market but also provide a much needed boost to the UK economy.

Malcolm Chilton is UK Managing Director of Covanta Energy

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