The UK government has been advised that the country will have to move away from the use of fossil fuels in power generation in order to reach targets set for greenhouse gas emissions.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body set up by the British government, says that existing conventional fossil fuel fired power plants should be replaced by renewable technologies, nuclear new build, and new carbon capture and storage (CCS)-equipped power plants.

The report comes as countries from around the world meet in Poland for the UN’s latest round of climate talks and European Union Member States continue to argue over the details of the European Commission’s energy and climate package. The UK is planning to implement carbon budgets from 2009 as part of plans to cut emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 80 per cent by 2050.

The CCC says that in order to reach its ambitious targets, electricity generation in the UK should be almost entirely decarbonised by 2030. It also recommends major improvements in building energy efficiency, transport sector decarbonisation and decarbonisation of other industrial sectors.

According to the report, achieving an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 will cost between one and two per cent of the UK’s GDP in 2050. “Put simply, this means sacrificing one out of the next 42 years of economic growth. This is a small price to pay compared to the consequences and much higher costs of inaction,” reads a summary of the report.

Emission reductions in the electricity generation sector, which accounts for 37 per cent of all UK CO2 emissions, can be achieved at low cost compared with other sectors, says the CCC. As the sector is decarbonised, it will also play a growing role in the country’s economy with substitution of low carbon electricity for fossil fuels in heating and surface transport.

The CCC’s report proposes the required levels of the first three carbon budgets, which will cover the periods 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22. It urges the government to commit to reducing emissions of all greenhouse gases by at least 34 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020 until a global deal to reduce greenhouse gases is reached.

Once a global deal on emissions is reached, the government’s target should increase to 42 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020, says the CCC.

The CCC’s analysis concludes that the deployment of new nuclear and renewable energy could result in a 40 per cent reduction on 1990 levels in CO2 emissions from the power sector by 2020. It notes that if the deployment of renewable technology slows or fails to meet targets, new nuclear build will play an even greater role.

Carbon capture will start playing a role in the period after 2022, says the CCC, provided that the necessary expenditure on CCS demonstration and development is made. The report also recommends that new conventional coal fired power stations should only be built on the clear expectation that they will be retrofitted with CCS capability by the early 2020s.

The CCC believes that the cost of reducing CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 40 per cent within the next 15 years is about 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2020. It says that this will “add significantly” to electricity bills, with resulting fuel poverty implications.

The targets proposed by the CCC are designed to ensure that the UK makes a fair contribution towards a global deal aimed at keeping global temperature rises close to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

“Climate change poses a grave threat to human welfare, the environment and the economy. We need to act now, in the UK and as part of a global agreement, to significantly reduce our emissions,” said Lord Turner, Chair of the CCC. “The reductions required can be achieved at a very low cost to our economy: the cost of not achieving the reductions, at national and global level, will be far greater.”

It is hoped that the talks in Poznan will result in a detailed programme that will provide the basis for agreement on an international deal at the next round of talks in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.