No reason to revise CO2 targets, says CCC

7th November 2013

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There is no scientific or financial reason for the government to water down the fourth carbon budget, confirms the independent committee on climate change (CCC), as scientists reveal that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are continuing to rise

In the first part of its advice to the government on whether to review the legally binding greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction target, the CCC concludes that there has been no significant change in scientific evidence on the impact of GHG emissions on climate change or in international ambition on cutting emissions.

There is no basis, therefore, for altering the fourth carbon budget to lower its targets, states the CCC report.

Under the fourth budget, which runs from 2023 to 2027, the UK must cut GHG emissions to 1,950 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) – less than half of what the country emitted in 1990.

When the government agreed the fourth budget in 2011, it stated it would review the GHG reduction target in 2014 and scale back the cuts, if other EU countries had not adopted similar goals.

However, the CCC argues that far from significantly outstripping our EU neighbours’ ambitions, UK targets are comparable to those of Germany and that, if negations to increase the EU-wide 2020 carbon reduction target to 30%, the fourth budget will have to be tightened.

The report also conclude that the world’s major emitting economies, including the US and China, have also made significant progress in tackling CO2 and are ramping up their long-term ambitions, which should alleviate concerns from industry about remaining competitive.

In publishing the report, Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, warned that the government must not to drag its feet over reviewing the carbon budget: “There is no legal or economic case to reduce ambition in the budget,” he said. “It will therefore be important for government to make a timely announcement on the fourth carbon budget. A protracted process would exacerbate current uncertainties about its commitment to supporting investment in low-carbon technologies.”

Deben’s comments were echoed by environmental campaigning groups and commentators, with Jonathan Grant, director at PwC, commenting: “The CCC is right to highlight the danger of changing tack or rolling back regulations, as it could undermine business and investor confidence that long-term government policy will deliver what is needed to tackle climate change.

“Whichever path you choose to get to a low-carbon future, it still requires substantial investment, and that requires clear, long-term policies.”

As the CCC advised the government not to water down its long-term carbon reduction targets, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) confirmed that atmospheric levels of GHGs reached record highs in 2012 and are continuing to accelerate.

According to the latest data from the WMO, between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32% increase in “radiative forcing” – the warming effect on our climate – due to GHGs.

Average carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 2.2 parts per million (ppm) in 2012, 10% higher than the average annual increase for the past 10 years, taking concentration levels up to 393.1ppm. The WMO now predicts that by 2016 global atmospheric emissions will be exceed 400ppm.

The WMO’s annual analysis also revealed increases in levels of methane and nitrous oxide. In 2012, methane levels were 160% higher than preindustrial times, nitrous oxide was 20% higher and carbon dioxide 41% higher.

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