Climate change advisors berate patchy policy

30th June 2015


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Anca Roxana Suciu

Many of the UK's carbon reduction policies are due to expire over the course of this parliament and must be urgently replaced, the Committee on Climate Change said today.

In its annual report on the UK's progress on reducing emissions, the committee noted that policies on funding for low-carbon electricity and heat, and measures to encourage low-emission vehicle use and improve energy efficiency all end by 2020.

It warned that, without suitable replacements, the country risks not meeting its legal obligations to reduce emissions. It also said that some existing policies might not deliver, either due to design and delivery problems, or because they are unfunded.

"Even if these policies delivered in full, there would be a policy gap to achievement of the fourth carbon budget (2023-27) and the cost-effective path to the 2050 target. This reflects that commitments to some policies are due to end and that policies have not yet been developed in other areas," the report states.

Greenhouse-gas emissions in the UK dropped by 8% in 2014 compared with 2013, bringing them 36% below 1990 levels, according to the report. The committee welcomed the decrease, particularly as there was strong economic growth in 2014.

However, the reduction was mainly driven by a decline in emissions from buildings, industry and power generation, many of which reflect one-off changes rather than ongoing trends, it said. The mild winter of 2014 led to a 15% reduction in emissions from buildings, for example. A colder winter would have resulted in emissions from buildings only slightly declining, the committee estimated.

Emissions from the power section fell by 18%, but over half of this was due to reduced coal burn and increased imports. Low-carbon sources only accounted for a 4% reduction in power emissions, the report states.

The committee warned that the government's removal of subsidies for onshore wind would lead to increases in the cost of energy for consumers. The government should not use the wholesale electricity price to compare costs of electricity generation, but rather the alternative means of providing generation, the committee said.

Where this is unabated gas generation, its costs should be judged across its lifetime, assuming that it would face the full costs of its emissions, it added. The committee also pointed out that onshore wind is forecast to be subsidy free by 2020.

On adaptation, the committee found some progress on reducing domestic water use through metering, with almost half of households covered by water meters. But significant decisions in terms of new water storage, treatment and supply infrastructure need to be taken, and reforming the water abstraction licencing regime is an urgent priority, it said.

Government spending on managing flood and coastal erosion over the past four years has provided 180,000 homes new or refurbished flood defences, the committee found. But it warned that, even a similar level of spending is sustained over many years, at least 45,000 more homes and properties will fall into the highest flood risk category by 2050.

The committee said overheating needs to be tackled, with the number of heat-related deaths projected to increase from current levels of 2,000 a year to 7,000 a year by 2050. A standard or regulation is needed to avoid the risk of excessive temperatures in new homes, it recommended. Action is also needed to counter the urban heat island effect, with 7% of the area of urban greenspace in England having been lost since 2001, it said.

A spokesperson for the energy and climate change department said: "There's still much to do and we will continue to power our move to a low-carbon economy at best value to consumers."

Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, urged the government to fill policy and funding gaps, particularly for after 2020, especially as it needs to back up its role in climate change negotiations with tangible commitments to decarbonise its economy.

"This is all the more the case, given the recent announcements on onshore wind and the future of the Green Investment Bank," he said.

Nick Blyth, IEMA's policy lead for climate change, said that the committee's report echoed findings from the institute's pre-election poll of members, which found that 91% want the government to strengthen leadership and commitment on domestic and international climate change issues.

"IEMA will look to engage constructively with the government, working with our members to present critical evidence and experience from front line climate change professionals," he said.

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