The National Engineering Policy Centre, a partnership of 43 engineering organisations led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, has published a ‘low-regrets’ framework to guide government decisions on tackling carbon emissions across the UK. The framework will assist with identifying policy options to help put the country on a pathway to net zero.
Low-regrets decisions are urgent decisions that can be made now to have a significant impact on decarbonisation, and that unlock pathways towards the net zero target rather than blocking off options. They can build flexibility, reduce costs for the future, deliver social, economic and environmental co-benefits, and help prioritise the use of limited resources.
Low-regrets options are likely to include providing incentives for consumer change, scaling up the deployment of proven technologies, demonstrating the effectiveness of low-carbon technologies and improving efficiencies in energy use across transport and built environments. The framework provides an engineering perspective on how such options can be identified. Examples examined in the paper include retrofitting buildings to meet energy demand via a low-carbon technology, developing a battery electric vehicle (BEV) charging network, and pilot-scale trials of critical technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
With the UK having enshrined in law its commitment to a net zero economy by 2050, it is vital for policymakers to be able to make confident decisions in the face of uncertainty. The low-regrets framework is intended to help identify the priority actions to take in the short-term—avoiding technological ‘lock-in’—while government, devolved administrations and local councils develop long-term decarbonisation strategies in parallel.
Professor Paul Monks, Chief Scientific Adviser of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Now is the time the world needs to go further and faster to tackle climate change. Prioritising low-regrets actions is a crucial component of our Net Zero Strategy to build back greener. The Prime Minister introduced the Strategy by warning against panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures that will hinder future efforts, and this framework will assist us with identifying the routes that will deliver not only the transition to net zero, but a healthier, happier, more equal society.”
Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The UK’s ability to decarbonise at sufficient speed and scale is dependent on key decisions made by government now. With less than 30 years to meet the government’s own target for decarbonising the economy, it is imperative that policymakers can confidently take rapid actions alongside more complex and longer-term decisions. The engineering community is well equipped and highly engaged in supporting government to move fast, and the low-regrets framework is a practical tool to facilitate this.”
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