Don’t water down climate targets, Government warned

Jay Owen Advisors' Forum

Ethical Markets Advisory Board member Tessa Tennant is one of the directors for the UK Green Investment Bank, instrumental in guiding the environmental policy in the UK which informed the report “Progress on Carbon Budgets” from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.   ~ editor

08 October 2013

MPs have warned the Government not to water down the UK’s long-term climate change targets in next year’s review of the fourth carbon budget (covering 2023-2027).


In light of recent climate science, the Committee examined whether the emissions restrictions in the carbon budgets are still valid as an appropriate UK contribution to tackling climate change. It found that the UK’s existing carbon budgets represent the minimum level of emissions reduction required to avoid a global 2 degrees temperature rise  – regarded as a dangerous threshold – and that the UK’s leading climate scientists did not believe loosening the budgets was warranted by the science.

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Joan Walley MP:

“Some commentators are intent on spinning recent developments in climate science to suggest we can relax our efforts to cut carbon, in the mistaken belief that this would be better for our economy.”

“Given that emissions are currently not falling fast enough to prevent a dangerous destabilisation of the global climate in the coming decades it would be incredibly short-sighted to slacken our carbon budgets now.”

“The UK’s leading climate scientists are saying loud and clear that there is no scientific case for watering down our long term emissions reduction targets. And the recent IPCC report echoes that message. Policy-makers must listen.”

The report also looks at progress towards meeting existing and future carbon budgets.

The current (2008-2012) and second (2013-2017) carbon budgets will be easily met because of the recession. But the UK is not on track to meet the third (2018-22) and fourth budgets (2023-2027), because not enough progress is being made in decarbonising transport, buildings and heat production.

The report warns that arrangements for managing and reporting progress against carbon budgets have not been working properly. The Government’s Carbon Plan – which set milestones for five key Government Departments to cut carbon – is out of date. Quarterly progress reports against milestones have not been published as promised and current departmental business plans are not aligned with the plan.

Joan Walley MP added:

“The Government’s current carbon plan seems to have been cobbled together merely to meet the legal requirement under the Climate Change Act. We want to see this become a working document that is fully aligned with Departmental Business Plans with meaningful milestones measured on a quarterly basis and an oversight board that is properly empowered to hold Departments to account.”

“The Government should be introducing innovative policies now to ensure that Britain is well on the way to going green by the middle of the 2020s. Ministers need to show much more vision now on how we can cut waste, improve our public transport and insulate more homes and businesses from rising fossil fuel costs. If we leave these changes for another ten years it will become much more expensive to meet our climate change targets and we will be left behind by successful green countries like Germany.”

The Green Deal is the Government’s key energy efficiency policy supposed to help meet our carbon budgets, but low take-up rates so far shows that there may be significant non-financial barriers as well as financial issues holding homeowners back from signing up. Statisics updated since the Committee agreed its report (paragraph 51) show that only 12 Green Deals have gone ‘live’ so far, with a further 293 households signed up to the scheme. Back in March Greg Barker predicted 10,000 households would be signed up to the scheme by the end of the year. The report urges the Government to urgently review the barriers in time to introduce new financial incentives in the Autumn Statement 2013 to bolster take up rates.

The Government should set a 2030 decarbonisation target for the power sector now, rather than in 2016 as the Energy Bill sets out.  The Government should also reconsider placing a statutory duty on local authorities to produce low-carbon plans for their area and work to ensure that all local authorities are measuring and reporting on their emissions.

The carbon budgets are made up of a traded sector element, achieved through the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) covering power generation and heavy industries, and a non-traded sector element covering road transport, agriculture, buildings, waste, achieved through UK domestic policies. The current low-carbon price in the EU ETS – the result of the economic downturn of recent years and over-allocation of emissions permits – means that that scheme will not deliver the emissions reductions envisaged when the fourth carbon budget was set. Without any tightening of the EU ETS increased pressure will therefore be placed on the non-traded sector, which will have to produce further emissions reductions to cover the emerging gap left by the traded sector.

The report calls on the Government to:

  • Commit to not-loosening the fourth carbon budget.
  • Identify when it will come up with key policy initiatives to bridge this gap and reduce emissions in the non-traded sector in the fourth carbon budget.
  • State how it plans to strengthen the EU ETS in conjunction with the European Commission.

Background information

The Government is required under the Climate Change Act 2008 – passed with cross party support – to set a series of five-year carbon budgets to restrict cumulative carbon emissions over the coming decades to safe levels, reducing emissions by at least 34% by 2020 and by at least 80% by 2050 (against a 1990 baseline).

Since the Committee agreed its report in September, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s ‘working group 1’ has published its own report, which reinforces the imperative to urgently tackle climate change identified by the Committee.

The latest statistics on the take up of the Green Deal, published by DECC each month, have updated the figures published at paragraph 51 in the Committee’s report. The statistics are here.

Further Information

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