Environmental and resource burdens associated with low carbon, more electric transition pathways to 2050

Footprint components from carbon emissions and land use to waste arisings and water consumption

Geoffrey Hammond, Hayley Howard, Hanumant Singh Rana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Environmental or ‘ecological’ footprints have been widely used in recent years as indicators of resource consumption and waste absorption transformed on the basis of biologically productive land area [in global hectares (gha)] required per capita with prevailing technology. It has been employed here to estimate the footprints associated with three low carbon, more electric transition pathways for the United Kingdom (UK): described as ‘Market Rules’ (MR), ‘Central Co-ordination’ (CC) and ‘Thousand Flowers’ (TF) respectively. These pathways focus on the power sector, including the potential for increasing use of low-carbon electricity for heating and transport, within the context of critical European Union developments and policies. Their overall environmental footprint has been disaggregated into various components: bioproductive and built land, carbon emissions, embodied energy, materials and waste, transport, and water consumption. This component-based approach provides, for example, a means for evaluating the implications for the so-called ‘energy-land-water nexus’. Electricity demand was projected to decrease significantly under the TF pathway by 2050, but its total environmental footprint (EF) was greater than either that under the MR or CC pathways. This is mainly due to the increase in the use of bioproductive land associated with solid biofuel production and that of the carbon footprint, which are both seen to be larger than under either the MR or CC cases. Water and waste footprint components made almost negligibly small contributions under all three transition pathways. Lessons can clearly be drawn for other industrialised nations attempting to decarbonise their electricity generation systems, although local circumstances will determine the country-specific findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-43
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Transitions
Volume1
Early online date27 Mar 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2019

Keywords

  • Environmental footprints
  • Resource burdens
  • Land use
  • Sustainability
  • Electricity supply industry
  • Transition pathways
  • United Kingdom

Cite this

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title = "Environmental and resource burdens associated with low carbon, more electric transition pathways to 2050: Footprint components from carbon emissions and land use to waste arisings and water consumption",
abstract = "Environmental or ‘ecological’ footprints have been widely used in recent years as indicators of resource consumption and waste absorption transformed on the basis of biologically productive land area [in global hectares (gha)] required per capita with prevailing technology. It has been employed here to estimate the footprints associated with three low carbon, more electric transition pathways for the United Kingdom (UK): described as ‘Market Rules’ (MR), ‘Central Co-ordination’ (CC) and ‘Thousand Flowers’ (TF) respectively. These pathways focus on the power sector, including the potential for increasing use of low-carbon electricity for heating and transport, within the context of critical European Union developments and policies. Their overall environmental footprint has been disaggregated into various components: bioproductive and built land, carbon emissions, embodied energy, materials and waste, transport, and water consumption. This component-based approach provides, for example, a means for evaluating the implications for the so-called ‘energy-land-water nexus’. Electricity demand was projected to decrease significantly under the TF pathway by 2050, but its total environmental footprint (EF) was greater than either that under the MR or CC pathways. This is mainly due to the increase in the use of bioproductive land associated with solid biofuel production and that of the carbon footprint, which are both seen to be larger than under either the MR or CC cases. Water and waste footprint components made almost negligibly small contributions under all three transition pathways. Lessons can clearly be drawn for other industrialised nations attempting to decarbonise their electricity generation systems, although local circumstances will determine the country-specific findings.",
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