Government told not to weaken carbon targets

12th December 2013

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Catherine Burrows

Meeting the fourth carbon budget will not harm UK firms' competitiveness and the government should confirm the targets as soon as possible, says CCC

In its second report advising the government on whether it should review the CO2 reduction targets outlined in the fourth carbon budget (covering 2023-27), the independent committee on climate change (CCC) has reaffirmed its view that there is “no basis” to relax the targets. Although the government accepted the budget in 2011, it pledged to review the reduction target in 2014 and scale back the cuts if other EU countries had not adopted similar goals.

However, the report states: “There has been no change in the circumstances upon which the budget was originally set that would justify a lowering of ambition. Therefore, the budget should not and cannot be changed under the terms of the Climate Change Act.”

Under the legally binding fourth budget, the UK must reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 50% on 1990 levels by 2027. The CCC calculates that meeting this target will have only a small impact on energy bills and the government’s actions to protect energy-intensive firms will ensure the UK remains competitive.

Furthermore, with the UK committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, taking action to reduce GHGs during the 2020s will save the UK more than £100 billion compared with delaying action until 2030, estimates the committee.

“This report shows the clear economic benefits of acting to cut emissions through the 2020s,” said Lord Deben, chair of the CCC. “This provides insurance against the increased costs and risks of climate-related damage and rising energy bills that would result from an alternative approach to reduce and delay action.

“While it is essential to understand affordability and competitiveness impacts associated with the budget, the evidence suggests that these are relatively small and manageable. The government should confirm the budget as a matter of urgency.”

In the first part of its report, published in November, the CCC argued that there had been no significant change in the scientific evidence on the impact of GHGs on the climate or in international ambition on cutting emissions since the fourth budget was set that would suggest a change in target was necessary.

IEMA welcomed the CCC’s conclusions and backed its call for the government to remove any doubt as to the future of the fourth carbon budget.

“It is essential that the government confirms the budget as soon as possible to provide long-term certainty for investment in low-carbon energy infrastructure,” commented Nick Blyth, policy and practice lead at IEMA.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s environment and climate change minister Paul Wheelhouse challenged Whitehall to match the devolved government’s target of a 42% cut in carbon emissions by 2020.

“Given the recent warning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that humans are almost certainly influencing the climate, we need the rest of the UK to, at the very least, meet the fourth carbon budget as set out by the CCC, but ideally to match Scotland’s ambition and targets on tackling climate change,” said Wheelhouse.

Scotland’s 42% target was set in line with an EU-wide carbon reduction of 30% in 2020, while currently the EU target remains 20%. In its reports the CCC concludes that if a 30% target is adopted across Europe, the UK will have to tighten the fourth carbon budget.

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