Fears voiced over carbon budget failure

26th November 2015

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Serious doubts have been raised over whether the UK can meet its carbon budgets as the government's independent climate adviser outlined the need for larger emissions cuts in the next phase of meeting the overall 2050 target.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC)'s advice to the government for the UK's fifth carbon budget was published today. It concluded that the government should commit to an emissions reduction of 57% by 2028-32 compared to 1990 levels.

The Climate Change Act commits the UK to cut carbon emissions by 80% b 2050 compared to 1990. So far, emissions have declined by 36%, the CCC says.

However, in order to meet the fourth carbon budget, which covers 2023-27, emissions will need to fall by 52%. The department for energy and climate change (Decc) has already admitted that it is not on course to meet this. The CCC has called for the government to announce urgently new post-2020 policies to close the gap between emissions projections and the target.

Yesterday's spending review announcement by chancellor George Osborne has heightened concerns among environmental professionals and industry over the fourth carbon budget, in particular after the £1 billion pot for a competition to fund the UK's first commercial carbon capture and strorage (CCS) facility was killed off.

CCS is one of six policy priorities highlighted by the committee in its advice on the fifth carbon budget. The cost of meeting the 2050 target could double without CCS, it believes.

"CCS is very important in meeting the 2050 target at least cost, given its potential to reduce emissions across heavy industry, the power sector and perhaps with bioenergy, as well as opening up new decarbonisation pathways," the report states.

A spokeswoman for the committee said that it would comment on the autumn statement once it had had a chance to review it thoroughly.

The cancellation of the UK's CCS programme was met with widespread anger. Leigh Hackett, chief executive of Capture Power, which is behind the White Rose project in Yorkshire said it was very disappointed by the decision, taken more than three years into the competition.

"It is too early to make any definitive decisions about the future of the White Rose CCS project, however, it is difficult to imagine its continuation in the absence of crucial government support," he said.

A CCS plant at Peterhead in Scotland, which is being developed by Shell and SSE, was also in the running for money under the competition. Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said that the cancellation of the programme was a "disgrace" and "breathtakingly short-sighted".

"It shows complete disregard for tackling climate change, utter indifference to developing the crucial new technologies to cut emissions and is another UK government hammer blow to energy generation in Scotland," he said.

Claire Jakobsson, head of climate and environment policy at manufacturers' organisation EEF, warned CCS was the only option for cutting emissions for sectors, such as steel and cement. "No CCS locks many industrial sectors into a carbon intensive future paying increasing amounts in carbon taxes," she said.

Neil Kenley, director of business investment at Tees Valley Unlimited, part of the Teesside Collective, which is working working on a project to establish a CCS network on industrial facilities in the area, warned: "With carbon permits expected to quadruple in price by 2030, CCS is also the only sure fire way of retaining a competitive industrial base in the UK."

Jakobsson said industry was concerned at how ambition could be scaled up to meet the 57% reduction in emissions under the fifth carbon budget. "A high level of ambition going on to the Paris negotiations is certainly no bad thing but it means little unless it is backed up with a credible and cost-effective plan to delivering it," she added.

Other advice in the CCC's report includes:

  • The budget should be met without the use of international carbon credits. The committee said it was not sensible to rely on buying credits given that other countries would need to pursue stretching targets, which would drive up their cost.
  • The government should use the carbon accounting regulations to fix the net carbon account for industry covered by the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS). This is to avoid changing the budget if the UK's share of the EU ETS cap is different to that estimated by the CCC, a concern that businesses raised during the committee's consultation. This means that emissions that do not come under the EU ETS must fall at least 2% a year through the 2020s, the CCC said.
  • Behavioural change will be increasingly important to meet the fifth carbon budget. Chair of the committee Lord Deben told the environmentalist that an expert on behavioural change is due to join the committee to steer its work on this. The appointment will be announced by the government, he said.

The government must put the fifth carbon budget into law by the end of June 2016. The committee will update its advice to government following the Paris climate talks, it said.


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