The UK will not meet its carbon budgets unless government policies begin to deliver significant CO2 reductions, warns the committee on climate change (CCC)
Policy measures aimed at cutting the UK’s carbon emissions resulted in less than a 1% fall in CO2 output last year, according to the CCC’s latest report on how the UK is progressing to meeting its long-term reduction targets.
A combination of milder weather, high energy prices and the tough economic environment were the real causes behind the 7% drop in greenhouse gases (GHG) during 2011, argues the CCC. It warns that without an urgent step change in efforts to decarbonise energy, deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS), improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce emissions from transport, the UK will be unable to meet its third or fourth carbon budgets.
“The rate of underlying progress is only a quarter of that required to meet future carbon budgets,” states the report. “It is crucial now to move from the policy development phase to delivery.”
Central to the CCC’s recommendations are amendments to the government’s reformation of the electricity market (EMR), as outlined in the draft Energy Bill, to provide greater certainty for investors in renewable technology.
The committee says the EMR should contain a commitment to reduce the overall carbon intensity of the UK’s power generation sector and a statement making it clear that gas generation is to play a back up role. The CCC warns that the reform package must not be seen to be encouraging a “dash for gas”, as that will damage investment in renewals and increase the costs of meeting the carbon budgets.
Another key recommendation is the need for the urgent demonstration of CCS. While welcoming the reopening of the government-sponsored competition to construct CCS demonstration projects, the report says that four projects need to be up and running by 2017, to ensure the technology has the momentum to provide the necessary emissions reductions from industry and fossil-fuelled power stations in the future.
To encourage companies to lower their emissions, the CCC argues that the government must do more to support the development of sustainable biofuels by industry and to strengthen the EU emissions trading scheme, which is currently failing to incentivise energy efficiency due to the low price of carbon.
Despite GHG emissions from new cars falling, the CCC warns that there remain obstacles to a wider adoption of electric vehicles and calls on the government to reverse its budget decision to charge company car tax for low-carbon cars from April 2015 and to roll out more incentives to support the purchase of more efficient vans.
In launching the report David Kennedy, chief executive of the CCC confirmed: “As the economy recovers it will be difficult to keep the country on track to meet carbon budgets. We need to tackle major challenges to drive emissions down across the economy – and to do this as a matter of urgency.
“There are some good initiatives in the pipeline, but more is needed to improve the investment climate, and put in place incentives so that people and businesses can act. Key policies require further clarification, and gaps in the policy framework need to be addressed.”
While the government will not formally respond to the report’s recommendations until October, energy secretary Edward Davey provisionally welcomed the CCC’s comments.
“The report confirms that we have very big challenges to face up to and highlights key areas where we need to raise our game to ensure that we meet our ambitious energy and climate change goals,” he said.
Meanwhile Steve Radley, director of policy at the manufacturing body EEF, warned that the government must not forget about the financial impacts of policy on businesses.
“Increasing the pace of reductions in emissions fourfold will require an enormous effort,” he said. “If we are to achieve this, it must be done as cost-effectively as possible and must not damage industry’s competitiveness in the process. This means placing affordability at the heart of energy market reforms.”