Our increasing carbon footprint is having profound effects on the environment.
Rising temperatures are changing the growing patterns of plants and sea levels are rising as the temperature of our planet increases. Rising seas will not only erode shorelines and destroy ecosystems but also coastal cities and towns could be displaced.
But what can be done to reduce carbon emissions in the UK?
According to the Committee on Climate Change, the independent statutory body which advises the government on emissions targets and reports to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change, there are many opportunities to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
We can increase the amount of electricity generated through low-carbon technologies, relying less on gas and coal.
Greater use of electricity, for example through electric vehicles or electric heat pumps, generated from low-carbon sources also provides a route to decarbonisation.
When it comes to generating heat, there are opportunities to use a variety of low-carbon technologies such as ground-source, or air-source, heat pumps which capture heat from the ground or the air. The use of biomass – biological material used as fuel – can also play a role in industry, if it is derived from sustainable sources.
In powering our vehicles, there is potential for some blending of biofuels with petrol and diesel. Longer-term, the use of electricity or hydrogen produced from low-carbon sources offers an opportunity for more radical decarbonisation of road transport.
There are a range of promising low-carbon technologies and systems.
Renewables: These energy resources derived from sustainable natural processes, including solar, wind and tidal, can be used to generate electricity, provide heat or may be used as transport fuel. In the UK energy from renewables accounted for 4 per cent of total final energy consumption in 2011.
Nuclear Power has been a key source of electricity generation since the 1970s. The UK currently has 16 reactors contributing around 20 per cent of generation in 2011. With the majority of stations in the UK expected to retire by 2030, investment in new replacement plants will be important for decarbonisation.
Carbon Capture and Storage captures carbon dioxide emitted by large installations (such as industrial processes, or from burning fossil fuels or biomass) and stores it in secure spaces like geological formations, or under the seabed. CCS has not yet been successfully trialled on a commercial scale but it would allow generation of electricity using fossil fuels with up to 90% less emissions than unabated use of fossil fuels.
Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy and refers to solid, liquid or gas fuels made from biomass feedstocks. In 2011 energy from bioenergy in the UK accounted for: 2.2% of heating; 6.3% of electricity generation; and 2.9% of transport.
Electrification is the process of moving from other energy sources to low carbon electricity. As the emissions intensity of the power sector is successfully reduced, then electrifying vehicles and heating will offer increasing reductions in overall carbon emissions.