The UK's ambitious new 2030 climate target is a beacon for the rest of the world to follow, and it couldn't come soon enough, writes Drax CEO Will Gardiner
The UK government's plans to accelerate greenhouse gas reductions by 68 per cent compared to 1990 levels will deliver a faster pace of decarbonisation for industries, transport, and homes. This ambitious target is a beacon for the rest of the world to follow - and it couldn't come soon enough.
When 175 world leaders gathered in Paris in 2015 to agree a landmark treaty to combat climate change, it felt like action and investment would be accelerated as the world worked together to deliver a sustainable low carbon future.
But since then we haven't moved far from the starting line - when we should be winning the race. President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement was a major blow to global efforts to combat climate change.
Whilst President Elect Joe Biden has committed to re-joining - it's not going to be easy. Getting climate policies through a potentially divided Senate, whilst trying to unify a country after polarised elections is a tough sell.
Here in the UK, we have experienced division too. With less than a month until we leave the EU, the Brexit deal is still being negotiated. 2020 also brought us the Covid-19 pandemic, wreaking havoc on lives and economies around the world.
But now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal when it comes to delivering against the climate commitments made in Paris. Quite the opposite. Which is why the government's announcement today is so important.
250 years ago, Britain led the industrial revolution - and just as we did then, we have the opportunity to lead again: this time in a green revolution.
The UK has, in the last decade, decarbonised its electricity system faster than any other. Progressive policies from the government mean companies like Drax have invested in renewable electricity technologies including biomass, wind and solar, which have drastically cut carbon emissions.
Negative emissions technologies are the linchpin in a future green economy - essential to meeting the new emissions target and the government has now set out its ambition to position the UK as a leader in the development and deployment of green house has removal technologies. These technologies will help many industries to decarbonise - not just energy - ensuring the world reaches the climate obligations made in Paris, and supporting the ambitions of companies like Drax, which aims to become carbon negative within a decade.
Next week the Climate Change Committee will publish its Sixth Carbon Budget, in which it must set out a pathway to achieving net zero by 2050 and next year, COP26 takes place in Glasgow. This gives the UK a once in a generation opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in the development of these vital new technologies needed to tackle the climate crisis - technologies which also protect and create jobs, restore communities, level up the economy and deliver export opportunities.
When the Paris agreement was signed, I was just joining Drax. I had been impressed by how the energy company had become the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe using sustainable biomass to transform its coal fired power station in North Yorkshire, supporting thousands of jobs in the process.
Five years on and we're ready to go further, using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) which permanently removes CO2 from the atmosphere while producing renewable electricity.
Deploying BECCS alongside hydrogen in the Humber could create around 50,000 jobs across the north as soon as 2024, giving a shot in the arm to communities struggling as a result of the Covid crisis. Drax is working with businesses including National Grid, Equinor and SSE to bring these technologies together and create a Zero Carbon Humber in the UK's highest emitting industrial cluster.
We stand ready to invest. Getting a robust policy framework is critical if we are to capitalise on these cutting-edge green technologies and turn a vision into a reality. The positive impacts of these will not be limited to the Humber or the north. It could kickstart a whole new industry for the UK and abroad, enabling us to show the world what can be achieved for communities, the environment, and the economy when governments, businesses and society work together.
If we are to reach the targets set in Paris, then the UK must continue to show global leadership at COP26 in Glasgow and make this the decade of delivery.
Will Gardiner is CEO of Drax Group
Drax is a partner of BusinessGreen's Net Zero Festival