Zero Carbon Britain

Zero Carbon Britain 2030 – A New Energy Strategy, 2010, Centre for Alternative Technology, ISBN – 978-1-902175-61-4, 368 pages, £39.95. - Also available to download: or, where you will find a discussion on the book with members of the public and CAT.

Zeron Carbon Britain 2030 (ZCB2030) is an impressive piece of research, which shows that it is possible to eliminate all greenhouse gases within 20 years and for the UK to become a net exporter of energy. The research is based on contributions from thirteen universities, twelve research bodies and NGOs and eight key industry players.

The danger of rapid climate change, the coming to the end of cheap oil and a financial crisis that could easily lead to a second dip recession all demand radical change in all aspects of our lives. In 368 pages ZCB2020 shows how it can be done.

So what are the solutions advocated by ZCB2020? How can the UK become a net exporter of green energy when the North Sea oil and gas reserves are running out and more than a third of current electricity generation capacity is due to be retired over the next two decades? The answer is to build thousands of wind turbines off-shore. This will enable us to electrify all cars and trains in the UK. And what if the wind does not blow enough to cover our electricity needs? Then we have backup storage in the form of hydrogen and biofuels – and occasionally imported electricity. Lignocellulosie biofuels can be used for aviation, shipping, some heavy goods vehicles and some farm machinery, which are not possible to electrify. Combined with lighter cars, improved public transport, more cycling and walking we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the transport sector.

A refurbishment of our domestic and non-domestic buildings can reduce our energy needs by around 70% - and create a lot of new jobs. It will also save us billions of pounds in import s of gas, coal and oil as the refurbishment will be a one-off investment. The remaining energy needs for heating, lighting, etc will come from heat pumps using green electricity and biomass.

Partly to enable the production of sufficient biomass and partly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture ZCB2030 recommends a reduction of livestock products to 20-30% of their present quantity. Plant protein is greatly increased; at the moment the ratio of meat to plant protein is about 55:45. In the ZCB2030 scenario it is 34:66, which matches recommendations for optimum dietary health.

The reduction in livestock not only allows sufficient food production and biomass for heating, building materials, biofuels, wild life areas, etc. 43% of the remaining productive land can be used for carbon sequestration, either in the form of growing biomass above ground or storing carbon in the soil. Creating such carbon sinks enables CZB2030 to become carbon neutral as there will still be some very specialised functions where greenhouse gases are unavoidable (refrigeration, air conditioning, manufacture of foam, metals and semiconductors, electrical and thermal insulation, asthma inhalers and fire fighting).

ZCB2030 admits that a zero carbon Britain is only possible if there is a high price on carbon reflecting the damage greenhouse gases have on the environment. Ideally this should be agreed on at an international level but failing that it could be agreed on at a regional or national level. The book explains the many ways such a carbon price could be organised without choosing a preference for any one in particular but rather listing their strengths and weaknesses, concluding that we will probably end up with a combination of several options.

ZCB2030 acknowledges that changes in government policies are essential to meet the necessary targets. However, it is also important to change individuals' and communities' behaviour. And that change is not easy to make, - at least not in the short timespan we have got to save the climate. So how do we best change behaviour and to what extent is a change in attitudes required? The book lists a wealth of theories on behavioural change without making a judgement on which theory is correct or more likely to succeed.

But can the UK afford to make this huge transformation to a zero or even a low carbon economy? Will hundred of thousand if not millions become unemployed in the UK if we cannot use fossil fuels? Hundred of thousands of jobs will of course be created building 39,000 off-shore wind turbines, retrofitting all buildings, shifting from meat to plant food productions, etc. However, to get public support for such a transition you will need to show that people will not end up living on the dole. Unfortunately ZCB2030 only advocates that we all consume less but does not lay out all the social and health benefits that would follow if we all reduced our working hours, while guaranteeing a certain standard of living, got more involved in community projects, had more time to look after our old, young and vulnerable members of society, etc.

However, can we afford to sustain everyone at a certain acceptable standard of living? All research shows that the earlier we start taking action the cheaper it will be. Even the CBI believes that the UK government's targets for 2050 (80% reduction in greenhouse gases, including aviation and shipping) are achievable at a manageable cost if early action is taken. The costs of doing nothing or too little too late will be much higher in the longer run.

If the transition is manageable technically and financially it is then down to the political will to get it started. To create this political will is the responsibility of all of us. The cost of failing is just too high. ZCB2030 is an important tool for us to use. “I recommend it to the House.”