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The Potential Wider Environmental Effects of Industrial Decarbonisation


In March 2021, BEIS published the UK Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy which sets out targets and actions to reduce industrial emissions to net zero by 2050. AQC has explored the challenges of industrial decarbonisation, the technologies coming forward, the potential for air quality and climate change trade-offs, and other cross media effects associated with the introduction of these technologies.

In 2015, the UK Government, together with 195 other nations, signed the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement makes a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent annual average global temperatures rising more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The ideal target of the Paris Agreement is to restrict global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

In response to the Paris Agreement, the UK Government has committed to reducing national GHG emissions to net zero by 2050. This commitment was enshrined in UK law in 2019 through the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019. The commitment includes reducing all UK GHG emissions from domestic, commercial, industrial, transport, waste and energy sources to net zero by 2050.

In March 2021, BEIS published the UK Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which sets out targets and actions to reduce industrial emissions to net zero by 2050. The Strategy targets a two-thirds reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 (compared to 2018 emissions) and a 90% reduction by 2050, with the residual 10% of emissions to be offset in 2050 to achieve net zero.  

A number of key technologies are identified in the Strategy that will help UK industry achieve these targets. These technologies include Resource Efficiency and Energy Efficiency (REEE), Electricity, Hydrogen, Bioenergy, and Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) targeted at industrial cluster sites and also more dispersed sites.

The technologies promoted in the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy will be crucial to meet the Government’s ambitions to move the UK towards carbon net zero by 2050 and meet its legal obligations under the Paris Agreement. However, as with any strategy or policy to drive through improvements in one aspect of the environment, it is important that a holistic view is taken and consideration made of the potential cross media effects that could occur to avoid repetition of the failings of previous policies.

Whilst measures such as REEE will also generate positive cross media effects by reducing emissions of air pollutants through the reduction in primary energy consumption, it is important to recognise that not all of these measures have similar positive cross media effects.

Reducing GHG emissions is rightly seen as one of the highest environmental priorities of our time with global implications, and it is important that adoption of these technologies is promoted. However, it is also incumbent as air quality practitioners that we recognise and advise on the measures available to limit the potential wider environmental impacts of these technologies that may occur at a local level.

AQC has produced a briefing note which investigates the potential cross media effects for three principal technologies proposed by the Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy; namely, Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), Hydrogen, and Bioenergy with CCUS (BECCS). The briefing note can be accessed here.

© Air Quality Consultants, Logika Consultants and Noise Consultants 2022