Cut CO2 emissions, support new skills
“I will support investment in the skills and infrastructure to make our nations world leaders in low-carbon energy, including renewables and new nuclear”
What's the problem?
Climate experts are warning that the challenges for reducing CO2 emissions to protect the climate system from the dangerous impact of human activity are far greater than previously thought.
The UN has set a target, now widely accepted, for greenhouse gas emissions to be stabilised to achieve an average global temperature increase of no more than 2ºC by 2020 since industrialisation.
But researchers at the University of Bern's Oeschger Centre for Climate Change said in July that this target will simply not be enough to prevent rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans or poor harvests. Emissions must be reduced by double the anticipated amounts, they warn.
Energy generation plays a big role in contributing to CO2 emissions. Prospect supports the 2013 Energy Bill target for CO2 emissions for the year 2030. A balanced portfolio of energy – hydroelectric, solar, on and off-shore wind, carbon capture and storage and nuclear power alongside traditional energy sources – can ensure energy stability and a reduction in emissions.
However, we need investment in infrastructure and skills to ensure that the UK can deliver the right energy mix. Without this, there is also a danger of energy supply shortages in the UK. Nobody – government, energy companies, industry, workers or the public – wants to see that happen.
It takes time and a skilled labour force to build power stations and run them. There isn't much time to waste: in June 2013 the regulator OFGEM expressed concern that many UK power stations were coming to the end of their working lives and would need to be replaced within the next 10-15 years.
Prospect believes the imperatives are capacity, energy security and carbon reduction. Nuclear new build has a role in all three. Now is the time to provide a stable platform for long-term investment in nuclear generation.
Solar, wind and hydroelectric power each have an important part to play, but they depend on natural factors to be able to provide energy at any given time. Nuclear needs to be part of the mix: it provides a reliable source of baseload energy – energy produced at a constant rate to meet continuous demand; and unlike some fossil fuel power stations, nuclear reactors do not emit the gases that contribute to global warming, acid rain or urban smog.
In the longer term, nuclear fusion is one of the most promising options for generating large amounts of carbon-free energy. Fusion is the process that heats the sun and all other stars, where atomic nuclei collide and release energy. Scientists and engineers – including Prospect members at Culham in Oxfordshire – are developing the technology to use this process in tomorrow's power stations. The UK must invest in its nuclear skills to continue this work.
Prospect believes that investment in these skills for the long-term will help to alleviate our energy needs and create quality jobs. But developing advanced engineering roles in this sector can take 5 years after graduation and it can take up to 15 years to become a team leader.
The Prospect pledge urges politicians to support cuts in CO2 emissions, and to support skills and investment that allow low-carbon technologies to thrive, including nuclear power.