Kiran Stacey UK lags on renewables but powers ahead on carbon-free gas

How strong a hand will Chris Huhne, the UK energy secretary, take into the Cancun talks? Will he be able to persuade foreign ministers and negotiators that the UK is playing its part?

As recently noted by the WWF’s EU climate policy tracker, the UK rates highly for its overall government policy, being the only EU country with a legally binding long-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

But the problem is, British MPs are now warning that progress towards those targets is “unacceptably slow”.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

As for meeting the 2050 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent, the [energy] department has yet to set out the timescale against which innovations in renewable energy technology will be required.

Hodge was particularly critical of UK renewables policy, warning that the UK might fail to hit its EU target of supplying 15 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020.

But Huhne can trumpet one major British success. Powerfuel, a mining company, and Calix, an Australian cement maker, have just announced they should be operating the UK’s first near carbon-free gas plant by the end of the year.

As the FT’s Andrew Bounds reports:

The 10 megawatt demonstration plant will help the companies bid for UK government and European Union funds. Its “Endex” reactor will capture 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide in fuel gas.

This double dose of news will only strengthen the hand of the increasingly vocal gas lobby, which has been calling on the government to drop its renewables commitments and focus instead on gas, with its emissions mitigated in the long term by CCS.