Technology to the rescue? Techno-scientific practices in the United Kingdom Net Zero Strategy and their role in locking in high energy decarbonisation pathways

Stephenson, S Allwood, J
  • UK Net Zero pathways have little difference in residual emissions or energy demand.
  • The materialisation of unproven technology is essential to achieving these pathways.
  • Analysis of alternative UK scenarios shows the need for low-demand pathways
  • Clean fuels and carbon capture promises block the development of new pathways.

The development of country specific decarbonisation pathways is becoming increasingly common as more governments commit to achieving Net Zero. These pathways are critical for setting the direction and pace of decarbonisation.

This article reviews the characteristics of fifteen different UK Net Zero pathways (three government pathways and 12 additional pathways) and shows how the expectation of technology innovation and low-carbon energy abundance closes down the space potential pathways can occupy. In particular, we find that while conceptually different, the three government pathways display a high degree of similarity and that the majority of pathways rely on significant amounts of new clean energy and retain large residual emissions in 2050 which requires the deployment of significant new carbon dioxide removal technologies.

The dominance of high energy and high residual emission pathways is also observed in international scenarios including IPCC's Shared Socioeconomic Baseline Pathways and the IEA's Net Zero Energy Scenario. By situating these domestic plans within an international context, the paper explores how the reliance on new technology in developed countries perpetuates an unjust model of fossil-fuelled development and blocks the development of alternative, transformative decarbonisation pathways from being considered.