The UK is on track to miss its renewable energy target of 15% and its 2020 goal of 34% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from Cambridge Econometrics.

The UK is expected to come close to meeting its carbon budgets for the first two budget periods (2008-12 and 2013-2017), but not the third (2018-22), unless the incoming government introduces firm policies to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency in the key sectors of the economy not covered by the trading arrangements of the EU ETS, the report said.

However, carbon emissions in the UK are set to fall further in 2010 after a steep 10% decline in 2009 due to the recession and fuel switching from coal to nuclear in power generation, the report said.

According to the report ‘UK Energy and the Environment’, the knock-on effects of the 2008-09 recession and the modest economic upturn forecast over the short term, point to a further decline in the UK’s carbon emissions in 2010.

CO2 emissions based on domestic abatement effort (and excluding the UK’s net purchases of allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System), will fall by around 1.5% in 2010 driven by falls in emissions from power generation, the energy-intensive industries, road transport, and households as the economic recovery from recession is expected to be weak (only 1% growth in 2010).

Total carbon emissions are expected to decline more slowly by 0.25-0.5% pa over 2010-20. Despite the continued growth in emissions from gas-fired generation, the emissions from power generation level off toward the end of the forecast period, a result mainly of the phasing-out of coal-fired generation not fitted with FGD end-of-pipe filters.

This leveling-off in power generation emissions after 2015, reinforced by lower emissions from industry, road transport, households and commerce, is partially offset by the continuing rapid growth in carbon emissions from air transport.

By 2020, CO2 emissions, at around 455mt CO2, are expected to be 22.8% below the 1990 baseline and some 7.6mt CO2 lower than Cambridge Econometrics’ August 2009 forecast, due largely to the knock-on effects of the recession, which mean that energy use and hence emissions from road transport, households and commerce are lower than previously forecast.

Based on Cambridge Econometrics’ estimate of net trading of allowances within the EU ETS, CO2 emissions are forecast to decline by around 27% between 1990 and 2020. However, these latest projections, in common with its previous forecast, only take into account those government policies that have been supported by concrete policy measures.

Prof Paul Ekins of University College London, who is senior consultant to Cambridge Econometrics and co-editor of the report, said: “The challenge now is to ensure that the 2020 targets are met by policies that cause emissions to fall substantially in a context of economic growth.

“The central forecast, therefore, implies that the incoming government will need urgently not only to set out the details of the ambitious carbon-reduction policies it has inherited, but also move swiftly to their implementation if the UK is to achieve the statutory goal of a 34% reduction in GHGs by 2020. The achievement of the 2020 target would make it more likely that the UK will be on track for its longer-term target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.”