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The shift to a low carbon economy means the almost complete “decarbonisation” of our energy supply by around 2030. The Committee on Climate Change, in its Fourth Assessment Report [PDF], identified decarbonising electricity as the a pathway to a low carbon future. At present, most of our energy is generated from fossil fuels: gas, coal, oil and petrol. Just over a fifth of our electricity is generated by a combination of nuclear power and renewable energy.

Much of the TUC’s work on energy policy is taken forward through the Clean Coal Task Group.

But a low carbon economy also means huge challenges for our energy intensive industries, like steel, cement, brick, glass, ceramics, paper and chemicals. Even though we make some of the most energy efficient steel in the world, industry can’t stand still: we need to invest in low carbon technologies to help secure their future in a low carbon economy. As our joint reports with the Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG) show, if we get our climate change policies right, in terms of technology investment and carbon costs fairly shared, huge employment and skills opportunities lie ahead. But it’s vital that we plan ahead for the changes involved, to ensure a just transition to a low carbon future. 

The TUC, with the EIUG commissioned two studies -

  • The Cumulative Impact of Climate Change Policies on UK Energy Intensive Industries - Are Policies Effectively Focussed? (2010) argued that, as tax structures stand, energy intensive industries are carrying the greatest burden of polices to tackle climate change and reduce energy use. In future, the report concluded that the impact will become even more disproportionate and intense. The report called on government to consult with industry and unions to develop a policy framework that would avoid the loss of jobs and investment to overseas competitors who have weaker climate change policies, or none at all. It found that the fundamental threat is “carbon leakage”, not only the loss of jobs, but also control over carbon emissions.
  • Technology Innovation for Energy Intensive Industry in the UK (July 2011): argued that there is a compelling rationale for government to develop an industrial low carbon manufacturing policy, in particular for the energy intensive sector. It showed that energy costs and lack of available capital are key barriers to innovation and called on government to develop a technology innovation strategy that includes new low carbon processes in various industries and where possible support shared solutions, such as carbon capture and storage demonstration for industries such as steel and cement making.
  • Building our low-carbon industries (July 2012) - The benefits of securing the energy-intensive industries in the UK. In recent years UK EIIs have significantly improved their energy efficiency and are much greener than many of their global competitors. But the high cost of energy and the technology needed for them to move across to a low carbon economy means that further green progress is at risk without a proper government industrial strategy.

The TUC supports a “balanced” energy policy:

  • Renewable energy - wind, wave and tidal power, domestic solar power, biomass and other systems supported by effective policies such as the feed-in tariff.
  • Investment in clean coal and gas power through new technologies like carbon capture and storage.
  • New build nuclear power stations.

Perhaps our greatest challenge is to transform our energy supply, to get more from less by improving energy efficiency. This is why the TUC strongly supports greenworkplace projects, involving unions, their members and employers in shifting to sustainable production of goods & services.

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