The Climate Change Act 2008 established a target for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. DECC reported that as of 2013, the energy supply sector was responsible for 33% of total GHG emissions in the UK.
While the UK still relies predominantly on fossil fuels to generate its electricity, DECC reported that the energy supply sector has reduced overall GHG emissions by approximately 32% since 1990. This is largely a result of switching fuels from coal to gas and of renewable generation occupying a larger share of the market.
The current framework in place to tackle carbon emissions at European level includes the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) which puts a steadily reducing cap on carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial emitters and the power sector. As the EUETS is a ‘cap and trade’ system, it has created a market price for carbon allowances which is reflected in the cost of electricity. Find out more about the EU Emissions Trading System on the European Commission’s website.
Other air emissions
The main emissions to air from power stations that give cause for concern are sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust (particulate matter, or PM2.5). All three are relevant to coal-fired stations, but NOx is the most significant emission from gas-fired stations. Power station emissions have been subject to European legislation since 1988. A fuel switch from coal to gas caused significant reductions in SO2 in the 1990s. Most recently, the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) (2001/80/EC) has driven a step change in the reduction of SO2 emissions through the installation of Flue Gas Desulphurisation at coal-fired stations. Overall, SO2 emissions reduced by approximately 90% between 1990 and 2013. From January 2016, the LCPD will be replaced by the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU), which is expected to drive a similar step change in the reduction of NOx emissions.