LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is on track to beat its 2020 emissions-cutting target and could see energy use per person halved by 2050 if it optimizes its energy mix and use of technology, according to a "Carbon Plan" which the government announced on Thursday.
Chris Huhne, the UK's minister for energy and climate change, said the UK "is absolutely committed to its targets" and is "on track" to exceed the 2020 target, even without factoring in lower emissions from a slowed economy.
The UK's 2020 target is to reduce emissions by 34 percent, and this is legislated by a trio of 5-year carbon budgets running from 2008 to 2022.
Huhne is set to join a UK delegation at a U.N. climate summit in Durban, South Africa, where climate negotiators from more than 190 countries are scheduled to work until Dec 9 on a new globally binding deal aimed at cutting emissions.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said achieving optimal energy savings by 2050 would require a mix of electricity generation from nuclear and renewable sources such as wind, biomass and so-called carbon capture and storage plants.
It said the most cost-effective path to an 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050 would include a mix with 33 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear, 45 GW of renewables and 28 GW of fossil fuels.
Fossil-fuel fired plants would be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to trap exhausts.
The DECC said the most cost-optimal approach to achieving climate targets would trim 84 pounds a year per person off of Britain's cost of energy in the economy, which is seen averaging 4,682 pounds per year.
"Every bit of progress we make is one more step away from import dependency, away from price volatility and from the emissions that threaten our way of life," Huhne said in the DECC statement.
Speaking to reporters in London, he added: "A balanced mix of nuclear power, clean fossil fuels and renewables would also give us jobs in thriving green technology sectors and much greater energy security."
Britain's largest business lobby, the CBI, said the government's Carbon Plan gives investors a "clearer" picture of how the nation can transition to a low-carbon economy.
But Matthew Brown, the CBI's head of energy and climate change policy, said: "We now need this to be backed by consistent, long-term policies, avoiding any sudden changes of direction which put investors off."
The UK's Conservative-led coalition has set legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions over four five-year periods to 2027, known as carbon budgets. They are designed to put the nation on track toward an 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050.
The Carbon Plan suggests that by taking no action to fight climate change, the nation's spending on net imported fossil fuels would rise to 86 billion pounds in 2050 from around 10 billion pounds today. But if the 2050 energy targets are met, that cost would be as little as 8-24 billion pounds.
In June, the UK set its fourth carbon budget covering the period 2023-2027, which entails reaching a level of emissions 50 percent below those of 1990. It plans to review its budgets in 2014.
The UK government has been pressing the 27-nation EU bloc to raise its 2020 climate ambition more in line with Britain's ambitious goal.
Versus a UK target to cut emissions by 34 percent, the EU's binding target is 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. It would rise to 30 percent only if other nations commit to comparable efforts under a broader pact.
(Reporting by Jeff Coelho and Oleg Vukmanovic; editing by Jason Neely)