Last year, the UK felt the real impact of climate change, with the summer temperature going up to peak at 40oC. These record-breaking temperatures resulted in a significant number of heat-related deaths, wildfires, and substantial disruption to infrastructure. Meanwhile, the UK’s global leadership position on climate action has been lost. We see a number of initiatives including the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s proposed Green Deal Industrial Plan have been coming up, attracting green investment away from the UK, but the UK government has been disappointingly slow to counteract these. The UK must prioritize regaining its position as a climate leader by formulating a well-defined plan for industries and technologies aligned with Net Zero goals. By doing so, the country can seize the economic advantages that accompany this transition and stimulate the demand for crucial technologies that will propel progress in the coming decade.
Addressing how far the UK has come in reducing emissions, the recently-launched progress report from the Climate Change Committee warns that the UK need to quadruple the rate of emissions reduction outside the power sector in order to reach the 2030 commitments the UK made in its Nationally Determined Contributions.
ADBA is alarmed by the UK Government’s continued lack of leadership and commitment to anaerobic digestion (AD), an industry that could reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by 2030, support the UK in meeting its Global Methane Pledge, and create tens of thousands of green jobs.
Responding to the Progress Report, Chris Huhne, the Chairman of ADBA and former Energy and Climate Secretary, said:
Ministers are just coasting into the election. There is no urgency, and we have lost any sense of experimenting with new policies and ideas to tackle the climate crisis. The UK is no longer a climate leader, and the case of green biogas is just another good example where both the USA and the EU are passing us in the fast lane.
Today we take a look at the CCC’s 2023 progress report and analyses what are the key messages the committee is highlighting, the progress of the government against previous recommendations, along with how the AD and biogas sector can help the UK government achieve the priority recommendations the CCC provides.
The Progress Report overall gives 5 key messages for the government.
1. Address the lack of urgency: With 2030 being less than 7 years away, the time is running out to achieve the climate and decarbonisation targets the government has set for both 2030 and 2050. The policy framework for achieving Net Zero targets is being developed too slowly, lacking the necessary urgency. We join the CCC in urging the government to start a course of sustained policy action, to help meet the transition timeline and prioritize speed over perfection. We especially would recommend the government take the high potential of the AD sector as a mature industry to contribute towards the transition towards Net Zero into consideration in the future policy frameworks to decarbonise the hardest-to-abate sectors of energy, waste, transport, and agriculture.
2. Stay firm on existing commitments and move to delivery: The government has made a number of ambitious commitments, such as the phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles by 2030 and decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2035 along with the deployment at scale of new industries such as hydrogen and greenhouse gas removals. We agree with the CCC that the government must reaffirm these commitments and move as swiftly as possible towards delivery.
3. Regain the role of international leadership: The UK needs to reclaim its role as an international climate leader by urgently reducing emissions, aligning decisions on fossil fuel production and infrastructure with Net Zero goals, and prioritising climate in diplomatic efforts. Governments around the world are putting forward ambitious actions to support and incentivise investment in climate mitigation including in greenhouse gas technologies. For example, the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s proposed Green Deal Industrial Plan are strong drivers pulling green investments away from the UK. Green biogas is another good example where both the USA and the EU are passing us in the fast lane, and it is apparent that the UK must take immediate action to regain its previous role as an international leader in climate mitigation.
4. Act on the immediate priority actions: To deliver the government’s emission targets, it is obvious that urgent action is necessary in various areas. Among the priority areas, the CCC highlights; electrification of industry, policies to increase the rates of tree planting and peatland restoration, plans to overcome the uncertainty surrounding the role of hydrogen in heating, and committing to rebalance electricity and gas prices by spring 2024 as crucial to reach the government’s Net Zero targets on time.
5. Develop demand-side and land-use policies: The government’s current strategy relies heavily on specific technological solutions some of which have not yet been deployed at scale, posing significant delivery risks. Balancing this approach with policies that empower and support individuals in making low-carbon lifestyle choices is crucial. Focus areas include home energy use, sustainable diets, reducing air and car travel, and potentially strengthening policy in these areas to mitigate delivery shortfalls elsewhere.
6. Empower to make low-carbon choices: Empower and educate households and communities to make low-carbon choices through an overdue public engagement strategy, supported by a positive government vision and leadership.
7. Planning policy needs radical reform to support Net Zero: Restrictive planning rules currently pose a risk to the timely and efficient deployment of infrastructure needed for the Net Zero transition. We agree with the CCC in its recommendation to the government to establish a comprehensive planning system that mandates all decisions to fully consider the importance of achieving Net Zero.
Policy Assessment and Progress in Bioenergy
Progresses related to AD and the bioenergy sector are;
1. Green Gas Support Scheme: One of the main progresses in relation to AD and bioenergy is the Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS). The scheme continues to operate, offering financial incentives for the production of biomethane through anaerobic digestion, which is subsequently injected into the network. While the scheme is currently scheduled to conclude in 2025/26, an extension was in discussion along with some other recommendations during the GGSS mid-scheme review that closed on 18 May 2023.
2. Clean Biomass Development Programme: While specific planting targets have not been established, the quantified abatement savings outlined in the Clean Biomass Development Programme (CBDP) consider the potential impact of planting approximately 9,600 hectares of energy crops and short-rotation forestry in 2030, with an increase to 15,000 hectares by 2035.
3. Environmental Land Management (ELM) Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI): In order to support farmers interested in cultivating miscanthus and short rotation coppice, payments under the Environmental Land Management (ELM) Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will be made available starting in 2025. New standards, including those related to soil, were announced in January 2023. Payment rates for perennial energy crops under the SFI will be disclosed later this year.
This Progress Report outlines the following as the areas that are to be addressed imminently.
1. Provide clarity on post-GGSS support for biomethane generation: After the closure of the Green Gas Support Scheme, there is a need to establish future support mechanisms for biomethane generation and injection into the natural gas network. This support should prioritize the integration of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology in the biogas-upgrading process to maximize emissions reduction.
2. Publish the Biomass Strategy: The publication of the Biomass Strategy, initially scheduled for 2022 but now delayed until later in 2023, has created uncertainty and led to a downgrade in the overall rating. The strategy should be integrated into the Land Use Framework, address sustainable domestic biomass supply, facilitate the rapid deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and consider the optimal utilization of bioenergy resources while accounting for sustainability and food security concerns.
3. Lead on establishing sustainability criteria for biomass: Maintain the efforts in its leadership role in developing and enhancing governance and sustainability criteria for biomass, both domestically and internationally.
4. Publication of the Scottish Bioenergy Action Plan: Scheduled to be published this year , this Action Plan is expected to provide insights into the relationship between biomass demand, land use, and agriculture in Scotland, emphasizing the impact and interaction among these factors.
Progress against last year’s recommendations
CCC highlights in its Progress Report that despite some progress in various areas, the overall progress made by DESNZ has been inadequate. Notably, no advancements have been observed regarding seven priority recommendations from the previous progress report.
The following chart from the report shows the number of recommendations with the progress. Disappointingly, none of the departments excluding DESNZ have made good progress on more than 5 recommendations while Defra has made some yet insufficient progress in all its assigned priority recommendations. We yet again urge the government to take immediate action to address these ‘missed opportunities’.
Priority recommendations related to AD
The Report provides multiple priority recommendations for different government departments including Defra and DESNZ that are addressing or supporting the AD industry.
- Conduct research on the drivers of increased bioenergy use in the industry over the past 15 years and publish the findings to inform the government’s strategy on biomass utilization and identify effective policy incentives for its optimal use.
- Ensure the timely conversion of large-scale biomass power plants to BECCS technology, avoiding the extension of contracts that allow unabated operation at high load factors beyond 2027.
- Clarify the future role of anaerobic digestion and composting in waste treatment while minimising emissions. While biogas and biomethane production via AD release some GHG emissions, as a whole, these emissions are carbon neutral as they are already in the carbon cycle in the form of biomass. We urge the government to support the industry cut these emissions but capturing them in the form of bioCO2 to be stored or utilised in the industrial sector.
Fully deployed, the AD sector could produce enough biomethane to power 18 million households by 2030 while supplying 100% of the country’s commercial CO2 demand. The CCC also states that the government must drive action to help the AD sector reach this potential, starting with the launch of the Biomass Strategy and the immediate publication of the outcome of the Consistency in Household and Business Recycling in England consultation.