UK Could Miss Net Zero Targets, New Report Finds

The UK is on course to miss both its 2050 net zero and  2030 emissions reduction targets, according to risk management firm DNV’s ‘UK Energy Transition Outlook 2024’ report.

The DNV report predicts that the UK will only achieve an 85% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions, relative to 1990s levels, falling short of the legally binding 100% reduction target the government set for itself in 2019.

Under the Paris Agreement, the UK is also legally obliged to reduce annual emissions by 68% by 2030, however, the DNV report only expects a 55% reduction to be achieved by that time.

According to the DNV, major contributors to the UK’s emissions in 2050 will come from transport, particularly fossil-fuel powered vehicles and aviation, and buildings, most notably from gas-powered heating systems.

wind turbines in field with clear blue sky in background

Decarbonising UK road transport

High-emission petrol and diesel vehicles currently make up 80% of the UK market share.The DNV expects this to decline to 65% in 2025, and 15% by 2030, with 98% of all new vehicle sales being electric vehicles (EVs) by 2040.

However, there are several hurdles on the road to transitioning to EVs.

The most obvious is upfront costs. Most new EVs cost upwards of £30,000, and there’s little government support for purchasing them. Coupled with the current cost of living crisis, the high cost of EVs is one possible reason for the recent decline in EV sales among private buyers.

The DNV report notes that charging infrastructure isn’t keeping up with EV ownership, which might be putting some consumers off from purchasing an EV. The government missed the 2023 target for rapid chargers on motorways, and data from ZapMap shows marked regional disparities in public EV charging infrastructure.

Not helping to increase EV uptake are policy u-turns on EV friendly measures, such as the government delaying the deadline for the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.

In the absence of a clear government position on EVs, the DNV states that the transition to EVs is largely being driven by car manufacturers themselves.

Decarbonising UK household heating

The DNV report notes that decarbonising buildings and heating is “one of the

most significant challenges facing the delivery of net zero in the UK”.

Around 84% of UK homes are heated by a gas boiler, accounting for 17% of UK CO2 emissions.

Additionally, only around 280,000 heat pumps have been installed in the UK, placing the country at the bottom of the European heat pump league, according to the DNV.

The DNV expects the percentage of UK homes heated by gas boilers to only drop to 60% by 2050, despite the government’s ambitious target of having 600,000 heat pumps installed a year by 2028.

Heat pumps are only expected to be used in a third of UK homes by 2050, with heat pump installations only overtaking boiler replacements by 2040.

Among the challenges for decarbonising heating, the DNV report cites the high upfront costs of heat pumps, driven even higher by the fact that most UK homes will need to upgrade their insulation in order to accommodate the new technology.

While the government does have financial support schemes in place, such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, the DNV report argues that stronger policy support for heat pumps and their associated insulation retrofits is needed to support the transition to low-carbon heating.

With the government poised to scrap its ‘boiler tax’, which would have incentivised manufacturers to make heat pumps cheaper, more policy incentives for heat pumps don’t appear to be forthcoming.

How can the UK meet its Net Zero targets?

The DNV report states that the UK can still meet its Net Zero targets through new policies designed to accelerate the electrification of energy through renewables.

The report notes that recent failures to get more onshore wind farms approved, and uncertainty over decarbonising household heating have stalled progress, but that this can be reversed through strong policy support for low-carbon tech and projects.

Recommendations include:

  • Policies to make preparing the grid for the energy transition faster and easier
  • Reducing energy demand through energy efficient measures, such as electric household heating and home insulation
  • Redesigning the electricity and gas pricing system to make electricity cheaper and incentivise households to switch away from gas heating
Written by:
Tatiana has written about multiple environmental topics, including heat pumps, energy-efficient household products, and solar panels. She is dedicated to demystifying green tech to make eco-friendly living more accessible.
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