There is potential for 2022 to top progress made in the last 12 months – but only if we see crucial pieces of the decarbonisation puzzle fall into place, writes National Grid’s Duncan Burt

A year of climate conversation and action in 2021 culminated in two intense weeks of negotiations at COP26, with many feeling a renewed sense of hope and belief for the decades ahead as the summit came to a close. So the big question will be how we take that forward and in 2022 we’ll really test the strength of the commitments from the COP and what comes next, both for the UK and around the world.

Countries will be looking towards global superpowers such as China and the US to see the steps they take to get new agreements moving. Meanwhile, in the UK specifically, there’s significant potential to see the EV transition accelerate, movement on offshore wind projects and steps forward in areas such as hydrogen and battery plants in the next year.

Eyes will be on the US and China

As leaders reflect on the outcomes of COP26 and the huge increase in public and business engagement, we could potentially see a fair amount of movement on carbon ambitions during the coming 12 months. For example, the world saw the US and China show greater focus on the green agenda, with agreement to boost climate co-operation through stronger commitments to keep 1.5C in sight. As we’ve seen with countries previously including the UK, there is often the potential to speed up the pace of reducing carbon emissions beyond what’s initially put down on paper – and that could be the case again, especially for leaders in China who may find themselves revising their targets to earlier deadlines.

Delivering on the summit outcome means that political will needs to remain strong. Next year will confirm if the US has fully returned to the climate change table and many will be watching to see if beginnings of critical infrastructure such as offshore wind projects in the North East get underway.

EVs will continue to go mainstream

In the UK we expect to see a continued acceleration towards electric vehicles. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) for November 2021 shows growing demand for electric cars with a significant uptick in registrations as plug-in-hybrids jumped 39.7 per cent year on year and battery-electric cars increased by 110 per cent.

This trend has the potential to go even faster by the end of 2022. We’ve seen examples in countries like Norway, which is in a league of its own when it comes to sales of electric cars with more than 50 per cent of new cars sold being electric, and a further 27 per cent are hybrid. If the UK is to keep pace with current demand, accelerate the phasing out of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, and ultimately speed up the pace of the transition, we need to see a real ramping up of EV charging infrastructure.

Getting the right charging infrastructure in place is essential to supporting the EV transition and encouraging consumers and businesses to make the switch; research shows that once people feel confident there’s a viable network of charging points in place, they’ll be encouraged to make the move to electric cars. With more clarity from government during COP26 on the design of the UK’s future EV charging network, there is exciting potential next year to start mapping out where critical grid capacity is needed to enable the faster roll out of charging points.

Pieces of the puzzle will drop into place

In addition to EVs, it’s very like we’ll see significant steps forward in hydrogen, CCUS and other technologies as the UK looks to scale up in preparation for net zero. There are some big projects that need to get off the ground across these areas as well as offshore wind, all of which will be critical for hitting government targets.

The regulator will have an important role to play as industries look out for how Ofgem drives the settlement for RIIO-ED2. This will be particularly vital to enabling the innovation and competition needed to deliver on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ambition for the UK’s electricity to come from green energy sources by 2035.

In the short term

Energy prices will remain front and centre of the UK political debate as Ofgem recently set out plans to adjust the UK energy price cap more often. This could be potentially huge for not only how the UK responds to swings in the market but the impact of shifting to low-carbon electricity. As we approach the price setting and capping phase, the industry will be watching European gas markets closely.

2021 was an eventful year for the climate change agenda – can 2022 top it?

The momentum and engagement in 2021 has been huge with UK government strategies across the board providing industry and businesses with guidance or next steps in areas like transport decarbonisation and how we heat our homes. Globally, COP26 outcomes have helped to focus minds for the next year. There is no doubt that climate change is on world leader agendas and that the issue cannot be ignored or downplayed. Looking ahead to 2022, there is definitely potential to top the progress made in the last 12 months – but only if we see crucial pieces of the decarbonisation puzzle fall into place.

Duncan Burt is chief sustainability officer at National Grid.

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