UK climate policy has ignored resource use, but better manufacturing and design could help the government meet upcoming carbon budgets and make UK businesses more productive, new research suggests.
More efficient resource use and better product design across manufacturing and industry has been largely ‘ignored’ in climate policy, according to the research by the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIEMAP).
The study suggests, manufacturing could play a key role in tackling the current shortfall in CO2 cuts needed to meet UK climate targets, while boosting the economy in the process.
The research led by four UK universities calculates action taken now to put less materials into the production process and get more value out of the materials used could cut UK greenhouse gases by as much as 200 megatons of CO2 equivalent by 2032, equating to more than half the country’s entire annual emissions.
At present, UK emissions are projected to exceed the fourth and fifth carbon budgets that cover the years from 2023 to 2032, and the government is facing growing criticism over its failure to set out decarbonisation policies which would make up the short fall.
Yet despite the current ’emissions gap’, ministers reportedly suggested the government is considering setting an even more ambitious long-term net zero emissions target, which would mean even deeper cuts in CO2 than the current carbon budgets require.
The report argues the emissions gap could be closed and deep decarbonisation achieved more effectively if there was a much bigger policy focus on resource efficiency.
Indeed, resource efficiency measures could potentially save seven times more emissions as the UK’s smart meter rollout promises, and almost three times as much as the Renewable Heat Incentive policy, the research suggests.
More resource efficiency needed
Overall, the report argues maximising the opportunity from more resource efficiency production across construction, vehicle manufacture, food and drink production, and electronics and appliances would allow the country to both meet the fourth carbon budget and tackle almost 80% of the projected emissions gap in the fifth carbon budget.
Moreover, with the UK economy suffering from low productivity compared to many of its European neighbours, more efficient resource use would make businesses more productive and lower their costs, delivering a significant boost to the UK’s post-Brexit competitiveness.
The research was undertaken by the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIEMAP), which brings together the Universities of Bath, Cardiff, Leeds, and Nottingham Trent. Professor John Barrett, director of CIEMAP, said resource efficiency was “an important part of the jigsaw if we are to achieve net zero emissions”.
Barrett said: “Our research shows that resource efficiency is an effective and unexplored opportunity to bridge the UK’s emissions gap.
“Looking beyond energy policies will also be needed if we are to achieve international climate ambitions, such as those set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Roz Bulleid, head of climate and environment policy at manufacturing body EEF, said the group would welcome moves to bring climate policy and resource policy closer together, arguing that to date the two approaches “haven’t been all that joined up”.
However, Bulleid suggested doing so would be by no means easy with many other wider implications to consider, such as the danger of simply pushing UK emissions further down the supply chain to other countries.
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