Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) (U26)


  The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a UK-based international organisation with over 75,000 members ranging from professional civil engineers to students. It is an educational and qualifying body and has charitable status under UK law. Founded in 1818, ICE has become recognised worldwide for its excellence as a centre of learning, as a qualifying body and as a public voice for the profession.


  The Institution commends the actions taken to date to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, but expresses concern that much more needs to be done to maintain these reductions in the longer term. The problem encompasses domestic, commercial and industrial energy use, as well as changes in energy production. Renewable generation is only likely to account for a small proportion of the national energy requirement unless large-scale projects are considered. Other forms of generation, with low emissions will be required to achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gases.


  1.1  Climate change is a key part of the debate on sustainability and it is now commonplace to ascribe exceptional weather conditions as being caused by global warming. The evidence suggests that these issues affect all parts of our lives. Climate change gases arise directly from the various energy industries as well as transport, other industries, commercial operations and domestic life. Nature itself can also produce climate change gases in such examples as volcanic eruptions and coal bed methane. So the problem is widespread and must be considered in terms of the sum of many parts.

  1.2  We can either accept that the climate is changing and attempt to deal with the changes as they arise, or we can try to prevent or minimise the changes in climate.

  1.3  The UK has accepted the policy of prevention, or reduction in climate change, but as the UK only contributes about 2% of climate change gases, we must use international persuasion to influence the producers of the other 98%.


  2.1  The world has ample resources of coal and uranium, and sufficient significant remaining resources of natural gas and oil, and of course renewable resources such as wind, solar and tidal. We might conclude that there is no shortage of energy sources, either now or in the years to come. But the issue now is that of the financial and environmental cost of energy conversion. Converting fossil fuel to heat or electrical power is of relatively low financial cost, but the environmental burden created by emissions is substantial. To compound this, energy growth per head is increasing, population is increasing and the peak demand for power is increasing. The challenge now is to reduce the environmental burden of energy conversion at a cost that is acceptable to society. A key part of this will be to reduce individual energy consumption.

  2.2  The substantial price rises during the summer of 2004 (leading to some of the highest prices ever) suggest that the world is facing short-term energy shortages. Some reports suggest that oil resources are only sufficient for another 40 years and gas for 60 years. The current shortages are exasperated by the demand from China and the Far East. It is usually difficult to notice the peak of a curve until the cliff edge is reached, but our planning should recognise that a peak in the oil and gas industries must be imminent. The USA is now acknowledging that it is now an energy importer and this will also drive up the price of raw energy. The costs of production of the remaining stocks of oil and gas will continue to rise.

  2.3  Although coal resources are extensive, (perhaps up to 200 years)—"environmentally friendly coal" with low NOX and SOX content is limited and so the price of coal has also reached unprecedented levels. The LCPD (Large combustion plant directive) in the UK restricts the choice of coal sources—and countries who choose to implement similar environmental constraints to the UK will be forced to follow suit. This will raise demand for clean coal and increase the costs. Although this will benefit the environment in the long-term, it will impact UK industry, commerce and society in the short and medium term.

  2.4  Recognising the priority for minimising climate change, we should seek to adopt other sources of energy during the planning period up to 2050.


  3.1  The UK Government's policy to meet its targets for CO2 reduction depends for a large part on increasing the proportion of renewable generation for the production of electricity to 10% by 2010 and onwards. The Institution is concerned that these targets are unrealistic and thereby setting a false hope that the nation will decrease its emissions.

  3.2  Overall energy consumption is increasing. Almost as fast as energy efficiency is introduced, more and more demands are placed on the electricity network, both domestically and in the work place. The National Grid has had to revise upwards its forecast for generation capacity.[63] It is very unlikely that the UK will be able to satisfy its increased demands for electricity solely from the expected growth in windpower. Other forms of renewable generation, such as solar pv, and geothermal do not offer a credible solution for providing more than a few per cent of the nation's electricity. We welcome initiatives to increase the adoption of solar pv both in the UK and worldwide, but nevertheless the Institution continues to press for a debate on the longer-term security of supply issue. This debate must consider renewal of the nuclear power industry and serious consideration of tidal power barrages.

  3.3  There is an additional requirement to differentiate between energy production and power requirement. Even if the UK could produce more than 20% of its electrical power from renewable resources, there would need to be major changes in the electrical infrastructure for electrical energy storage to make the power available when required. To put this simply, more generation is required than would be calculated directly from the theoretical annual production from renewable resources.

  3.4  The UK's reliance on imported natural gas is an insufficient response. It was a fortuitous co-incidence that a large proportion of power generation switched from coal to natural gas during the early 1990's. This brought together several threads: improved combined cycle gas turbine efficiency (CCGT), the lifting of the embargo on generation from natural gas and the privatisation of the power industry. The reductions in emissions have now been obtained, and there will only be marginal gains from natural gas. The UK is close to its 12.5% Kyoto target. CO2 decreased by 7.5% between 1990 and 2003 despite an 8% rise in consumption. We do note that there was a 1.5% increase in CO2 emissions in 2003. The switch to natural gas is also reflected in the average figures for the EU.

  3.5  The UK Government's aim of reducing CO2 by 20% by 2010 hinges crucially in reducing coal burnt in power generation. Reductions to date have all come from a switch from coal to gas burn for electricity generation—the other sectors totalling 82% of energy use, in commercial and domestic heating and transport have achieved no real savings. The split of the latter two is roughly 40% each of the total. CO2 from domestic and commercial heating and vehicles are inexorably rising with no likely curtailment in the short term. We agree with a journalist from the Guardian who states " we are on-track to miss by a mile our commitment to reduce emissions by 20% by 2010, although we would easily meet the far lower target required under the still un-ratified Kyoto agreement." Cambridge Econometrics say: "Emissions from power generation are likely to drop by 5.5%, largely because of the investment in wind power, but those from domestic and transport sources are rising steeply undermining the push to renewables. Emissions from road transport will, by 2010, rise by 14% from 1990 levels."

  3.6  The environmental audit committee of the Commons reported in August 2004 that the Government's energy strategy was now "seriously off course" and "that more imaginative and radical" policies were needed for transport. Transport's share of UK emissions, it says will rise from 18.7% to 26.3% in 2010. Air transport has almost doubled between 1990 and 2002. The government since taking office has presided over a 17% increase in road traffic. There is very little enthusiasm within the UK for the preparation of liquid fuels such as bio-diesel made from renewable resources, which might show some small savings.

  3.7  Europe is on course to fail to meet even its low Kyoto target of 5.2% cuts in emissions on 1990 figures by 2012. According to the European Environment Agency, overall emissions are only 2.1% lower than in 1990. Only France, Germany, Sweden and the UK are likely to meet their targets whilst Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, Italy, Denmark and Greece are all expected to overshoot—some substantially. Most OECD countries have the same problems as Britain: carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles in Europe will rise by 30% by 2010. Energy conservation particularly in road and rail transport will therefore be key to reducing CO2 emissions.

  3.8  Although the wind development programme is key to the success of a worthwhile renewable programme in the UK and the programme has been enhanced by the introduction of ROCs, other large scale renewable generation needs to be considered in order to extend our energy resources. The next wave of renewable energy sources is in the marine sector, in particular tidal flow and wave energy. The UK should be persuaded to invest heavily in this area and bring forward commercially viable technologies that could fall within the ROC catchment for energy companies and the utilities to implement. This will not be possible without significant investment and R&D into this fledgling industry—with significant long-term downstream benefits to UK's civil/marine engineering industry as well as to the nation's energy resources.

  3.9  Renewables may not address all of our concerns about the security of our energy supplies—but they are wholly indigenous once constructed, which is increasingly not the case with conventional generation. The Institution continues to argue for the UK to adopt as broad a fuel mix as possible as the cornerstone of its energy strategy.

  3.10  The hydrogen economy is still many years away. Hydrogen should be seen as an energy vector, and not as a fuel source. As an energy vector it currently has a low through efficiency. Unless the hydrogen is produced from totally non-emitting sources, such as hydrolysis using wind power or hydro power there is little to be gained. We are also concerned that the effects of hydrogen in the upper atmosphere are not understood. Estimates of hydrogen leakage vary from 0.1% to as much as 10% when transported. We also note that despite widespread research on the development of the hydrogen infrastructure, there has been little attention paid to the use of the oxygen that is also produced during the hydrolysis process. It is claimed that hydrogen would offer a credible form of energy storage, but there is not yet sufficient evidence to conclude that problems would be solved by use of a hydrogen infrastructure. The PIU reported[64] that to produce sufficient hydrogen for transport in the UK would require more energy than our present electrical consumption. Even a small proportion of the worldwide speculative investment in fuel cells and hydrogen infrastructure would make a significant difference to stimulating development of other more near term renewable resources.

  3.11  Although hydrogen is seen as replacement fuel for road transport, care needs to be taken that the problem is not simply shifted from the city centre to an electrolysis plant. For unless the hydrogen is produced from surplus renewable energy, its value in displacing CO2 is doubtful. There is a small societal credit to be gained from encouraging individuals to behave more responsibly, but large savings in CO2 production are not likely in the short term.


  4.1  The UK is not the only participant in the programme to minimise climate change, and international agreements are therefore a necessary activity. However the record of participation in international agreements is not good. Several countries are seeking to increase their emissions under the Kyoto agreements, and many countries are taking little action to participate. This means that if the UK takes its responsibilities seriously, it is penalising itself through additional economic and technical burdens against its competitors who are avoiding such action. This should not mean that the UK withdraws from these agreements, but we should redouble our efforts to not only meet the targets, but also persuade other countries so to do, and furthermore, encourage British industry to benefit in the process.

  4.2  It is very noticeable that EU legislation is often conveniently ignored. A survey of environmental compliance indicated that no single EU state (as of January 2004) meets the 1.5% implementation deficit target for environmental internal market directives.[65] Only two out of the 15 have improved their performance since late 2002. In the two most dramatic shifts, Sweden's deficit has expanded from nothing to nearly 6%, while the Netherlands' has spiralled from 1.2% to 10.6%.


—Environmental laws
—All laws

October 2002
January 2004
January 2004

  4.3  Nine member states have still not implemented the EU's 2001 directive on deliberate release of genetically modified organisms. Eight have not implemented the 2002 ozone pollution directive. Meanwhile, six each have not implemented the 2000 end-of-life vehicles directive, the 2000 waste incineration directive and the 2001 national emission ceilings directive.

  4.4  Radical agendas require radical measures. Wide ranging legislation across a wide variety of topics appears to lead to widespread avoidance of compliance. Using EU directives as a means of stabilising climate change simply adds to the burden of red tape affecting industry and commerce. Changing the industrial lifestyle will require more than restrictive directives. Leaving choice to the market is also likely to be ineffective.


  5.1  The UK's renewable generation programme grew rapidly as a result of the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation NFFO. A small subsidy was paid to renewable generators in response to requests for proposals for renewable generation. This had a positive effect on encouraging technology introduction and ongoing technology improvements. More recently, trading in ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates) has encouraged a market that looks beyond the core technology, but into the value of CO2 free generation. Logically this should be extended beyond the classic forms of renewable generation so that it covers all non CO2 energy producers.

  5.2  Substantial reductions in CO2 and other GHG can only be achieved by substantial switches to other fuel sources. Nuclear power is one such obvious choice. Tidal barrages should also be considered. The UK government's support for large-scale generation switches to alternative technologies should be reflected by an increase in industrial activity in the nuclear and tidal engineering industries, both to service the home and overseas markets. There is a requirement not only to plan future capacity to meet increases in generation, but also improved capacity to match plant retirements.

  5.3  We are also concerned that energy efficiency and energy use reduction needs to be developed and understood. Although for example, motor vehicles become more fuel efficient, there is no reduction in the number of motor journeys made in the UK, thereby leading to a net increase in fuel use and GHG emissions. Energy consumption per capita is increasing at an annual rate of about 0.7% across the EU, and at a much higher rate in the recent accession countries to the EU. We expect this trend to be reflected amongst other regions in the world—in Asia, South America and Africa—as development relies on energy.


  5.4  The use of energy within both domestic and commercial buildings is largely un-controlled. With the growing use of home computer based systems and additional domestic electrical appliances, electricity consumption will continue to rise without any foreseeable controls.[66]

  5.5 New building regulations such as Part L for the commercial and domestic sector, do not ensure a minimum energy profile for any new building. The developer's lead is still to build to the lowest cost and not the lowest energy. Current building projects and approved developments as part of the massive UK expansion in Town Centre developments (supported in most part by English Partnership funding) do not come anywhere near the low energy options that are well-tried and available now. This includes, better low energy lighting systems, better control and the use of natural ventilation and free cooling options. The planning process does not allow for the selection of low energy options, it just relies on Part L, which is definitely not the only solution. Energy options and energy reductions in new buildings will need to re-addressed during the buildings' lifetimes and constraints imposed now are reducing the opportunities for improvements later. For example the better integration of local CHP to serve the development of both gas fired and renewable energy are not being fully explored or implemented. We see this compounding the problems for improving our future energy use.


  5.6  It is particularly noticeable that in the recent EU accession countries, generating capacity has increased dramatically. This reflects the lack of investment over many past years as well as the need to increase the overall generating capacity to meet expected peak demands. However new generation has improved efficiencies, and this, together with a very modest switch to some renewable generation has led to a fall in CO2 emissions.

EU 1985
EU 1997
EU 2001
EU Increase
USA 1985
USA 1997
USA 2002

Generating capacity per
inhabitant kW/
Electricity generated per
CO2 emissions
per inhabitant

  Source: EU, Eurostat , EIA and private estimates

  5.7  Although transport is a major energy consumer, tariffs on transport are seen as a tax raising activity rather than an incentive to restrict demand. Industry requires an efficient transport network for movement of goods as well as personnel transport. Road improvements to prevent congestion usually lead to transfer of the problem elsewhere, and transfer of goods from road to rail or water is restricted because of limited trackside access and a high land cost which discourages open space. New housing developments are built frequently without garage or car parking space, making it impossible to retrofit an infrastructure for charging electric vehicles.[69]

  5.8  Paradoxically, for many people energy is too cheap. Fuel consumption is of minor concern for the purchasers of many new cars. Recent fuel surcharges on air tickets has not dampened demand. Even the use of outdoor patio heaters demonstrates a lack of understanding of the social consequences of a spendthrift attitude to energy consumption and the environment. At the other extreme, we recognise the special difficulties of those on restricted incomes for whom every heating bill is a major financial worry. Controlling energy use at the point of demand is likely to be counterproductive and may reduce GHG by only small quantities in comparison to the larger savings that would be achieved by addressing the power generation and transport portfolios.


  6.1  The Institution of Civil Engineers has recently presented both written and oral evidence to the EFRA Committee on Climate Change, Water Security and Flooding. In our evidence we drew attention to many issues which affect the water environment of this country as a direct result of climate change. The ICE has not debated the reasons for the current climate change scenarios, for example how much of the predicted climate change might be attributed to global weather patterns and how much to greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is essential that all governments take note of the impact of climate change upon the water environment and take action accordingly. Whilst the effects upon this country are profound, the possible effects of changes in weather patterns to higher temperatures, longer droughts and more extreme flooding events will have a devastating impact in parts of the world where already death from water related problems exceed those from any other cause. With over 1 billion people not having access to clean drinking water and over 2 billion people not having proper sanitation, climate change will only make this situation worse.

  6.2  The second point raised in the Terms of Reference is, we believe, of particular note. In their roles as Chair of G8 and President of the EC the government should use the evidence presented by ICE to the earlier Committee to emphasise the impacts of climate change upon these essential aspects of everyday life in developed countries and thereby draw attention of other world leaders to the probable impacts upon developing world. The UK is fortunate in having a number of centres of excellence and world class research into climate change. It is essential that the UK Government builds upon this platform.

  6.3  The ICE recognise that previously submitted evidence is not usually considered at a subsequent committee, however the closeness of the subjects and the inter-relationship between water and climate change leads us to believe that the committee should take our previous evidence as being suitable for the terms of reference under Climate Change—Looking Forward.


  7.1  We therefore recommend a review of national policy in the following areas:

    —  1.  Reduction of UK GHG emissions: Incentives for power generation from renewable sources and non GHG emitting sources such as nuclear and tidal barrage.

    —  2.  Incentives for the reduction of energy use in industry, commerce and domestically through demand reductions, energy conservation and improved energy efficiency.

    —  3.  Infrastructure improvements to reduce GHG in transport by a more rational use of public or shared transport, improved traffic handling and changes in primary fuel.

    —  4.  Adoption of a national strategy for energy, which includes multiple energy sources to ensure security of energy supply as its priority.

  7.2  We also suggest that the UK should use its chairmanship of the G8 and European Presidency to ensure that debate on climate change is turned into actions. Incentives and motivation will be needed to influence other countries and the debate must not degenerate into international disputes about economic growth. There is no right to deny growth to other nations, but as inheritors of a common planet we must share together in the creation of an infrastructure of common ownership.

  7.3  We urge the Government, and other non Governmental agencies to emphasise the impacts of climate change upon our everyday life and thereby draw the attention of other world leaders to the probable impacts upon the developing world.

  7.4  We recommend that the UK continues to build its centres of excellence and its world class research into climate change.

  7.5  We also urge the appointment of an independent Chief Engineering Adviser to ensure a co-ordinated, long-term, sustainable approach to infrastructure planning, which encompasses power supplies, energy use and its interactions with the environment, rather than decision-making being dominated by shorter-term political pressures. The Institution believes that the position should be similar in remit to the Government's Chief Medical Officer or Chief Scientific Adviser.

4 October 2004

63   National Grid Transco, Seven Year Statement 2004. Back

64   Cabinet Office, Performance and Innovation Unit, Energy Review, February 2002. Back

65   European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111 and 12 January press release|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=. Back

66   Many domestic devices are designed to be "on" or "standby" continuously, which adds to the demand for both energy and capacity. Standby domestic power consumption is about 10% of the total. Source IEA 2001. Back

67   Accession countries and candidate countries. Back

68   Estimate. Back

69   Note that many family houses and flats are built without sufficient space to store 2 or more bicycles, placing more limitations on the adoption of alternative transport methods. Off road charging of electric vehicles is also very difficult. Back

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