Paris climate agreement and UK policy

10th March 2016

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The UK should push on with the fifth carbon budget without delay.

The Paris COP21 climate agreement set in place a framework for limiting global warming to well below 2oC and to restrict net global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by the end of this century. The agreement also set an ambition to limit average global warming to 1.5oC.

In the UK, the Climate Change Act 2008 sets an 80% GHG emissions reduction to 2050 compared with 1990, with a rolling programme of carbon-budgets each spanning five years. We’re now in the second carbon budget period (2013-17). This requires a 29% minimum reduction, which the UK is on track to surpass. The government is required to set the fifth budget for the period 2028-32 by June this year.

Crucially, the 2050 80% emissions reduction target set in the 2008 Act assumed that international agreements would be put in place to restrict the global average temperature increase to 2oC, rather than the more ambitious goal set out in the Paris agreement.

The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has reviewed whether its recommended fifth budget of 1,765 MtCO2e, equating to a 57% emissions reduction compared with 1990, should be strengthened.

In concluding that there should be no change now, the committee notes that the pledges made in Paris – including the package from the EU – do not amount to a pathway to 2oC warming or below. It said the review and ratcheting up of each country’s intended nationally determined contributions would need to be accelerated to achieve the overall goal.

The CCC highlights the importance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in meeting the 2050 target, and the need to make sufficient progress in the run-up to 2030. The recent cancellation of the £1bn funding for commercialisation of CCS is clearly a concern.

However, the commitment in the energy and climate change department’s plan for 2015-20 to ‘consider the advice from Lord Oxburgh’s CCS advisory group as we explore our future approach to this technology for both power and industrial processes’ offers some hope.

So what next? The bottom line for the UK is that, to achieve both its national and international climate change obligations, the CCC’s recommendation on the fifth carbon budget ought to be adopted without delay.

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