Response to the CCC 6th Carbon Budget by UKERC Director Rob Gross

09 Dec 2020

There is much to welcome in the Climate Change Committee’s 6th Carbon Budget advice to Government. As it is the first budget advice the CCC has published since net zero was enshrined into law (2019), it essentially brings forward much of the ambition under the old 80% target forward to 2035. It is of huge importance in the context of the UK’s ambitions to be a climate leader in the run-up to the climate negotiations (COP26) in Glasgow next year.

The CCC advice is based on very detailed analysis exploring a range of scenarios. Their central or Balanced Pathway is equivalent to a 78% reduction in the greenhouse gases (on 1990 levels) by 2035. This is an ambitious and challenging target to meet, which will require action by both government and society. We shall have to wait to see how government responds.

The report is over 1000 pages with supplementary analysis covering everything from home energy to peat bogs. There is much to digest but a few initial points of note stand out:


It is notable that the report makes a case for an increase in the proportion of new car sales to be EVs by 2025. This will require a major step-change. It will be vital that progress against this target begins now, if it does not there will have a large legacy of inefficient petrol vehicles running into the 2040s. More needs to be done to discourage petrol sales as well as encourage EV sales, something that we are be calling for in our forthcoming Review of Energy Policy 2020. It also requires an urgent acceleration in the deployment of rapid charging stations and the infrastructure to deliver electricity to them. Government has taken welcome steps in this direction but if 50% of new vehicles will be electric in 2025 as the CCC hopes, this is not yet taking place fast enough.


The CCC are also explicit about the importance of electric heating, particularly through the deployment of heat pumps – something UKERC has also highlighted in a recent report. The CCC call for new boilers to be hydrogen compatible in 2025, however, it is clear there are legitimate concerns about the production of hydrogen in sufficient quantities to meet a large fraction of heating. In short, the report recognises that the efficiency offered by heat pumps looks like a safer bet for heating, calling for zero carbon heating to be over 80% of the market from 2030 and 100% in 2035.


It is hard to overstate the scale of the challenge facing housing. There is no magic bullet and the CCC is clear that we need to get on and roll out heat pumps, not wait and hope. UKERC analysis has shown the current rate of heat pump installation would take 700 years to reach the target. The opportunity to create jobs in building retrofit is enormous but we fear a huge gap in skills and household awareness, an issue that Dr. Faye Wade and colleagues explore in our annual Review of Energy Policy. Getting on with greening homes is the biggest challenge the CCC report provides to government.


Progress with the power sector has been strong, with emissions halved in the last decade, but it is arguable that the hardest challenges remain. As Prof Keith Bell explores in our forthcoming annual Review of Energy Policy much higher shares of renewables and nuclear create a bigger challenge in system balancing. We need to address the inter-seasonal mismatch in demand and output. Interconnection and smart charging of cars, or heating of homes will help, but if we cannot store electricity for longer than a few hours, we will have to curtail the generation of zero carbon electricity when supply exceeds demand. We need cost effective bulk storage if we are to avoid wasting low carbon electricity and resorting to fossil fired plant when supply is low.


The CCC report also explores the cost of all this. It shows that investment needs to be front loaded over the coming decades to build the necessary net zero kit and invest in efficient buildings. Payback will come in the form of lower running costs, notably through the elimination of fuel costs, but savings tend to come later. To make the changes that we need, it will be necessary to secure investment at minimum cost of capital over long time horizons. Most of the investment will come from the private sector, and whilst there may be a role for state investment the key requirement is for policy to enable investment in new infrastructure. This is a core research topic for UKERC’s research on Energy Infrastructure Transitions.

Behaviour change

It is notable that the CCC are more forthright about the importance of individual behaviour change, notably in terms of diet. The report is explicit about the need to reduce meat consumption. Historically the CCC have been cautious of any recommendations appearing to be too intrusive into individual choices. However, some pretty disruptive consumer choices/changes will be central to any success with EVs, heat pumps or insulation.

The CCC have laid down an immense challenge for government, UK, and indeed to the world. They show in more detail than we have ever had before how we might get to a net zero world. They show some of the key actions needed in the short term and how this will impact the economy. There is a huge amount to do going forward and UKERC aims to be at the forefront of the analysis and research needed to deliver these goals.