UK's long-term CO2 targets at risk

11th November 2011


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The UK's ability to meet its carbon reduction commitments is in doubt because councils are scaling back their efforts to combat climate change and businesses are failing to plan beyond 2020.

According to environment think-tank the Green Alliance, many local authorities are scrapping their sustainability functions as a result of budget cuts, with 37% of local councils admitting climate change is not a priority for them and a further 28% confirming they are dropping broader environmental activities to focus on one area, such as reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from their own operations.

At the same time, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) warns that although more FTSE 350 companies are now actively working to reduce their emissions than were a year ago, only 15% of the 236 firms it surveyed have targets in place beyond the end of the decade.

“Business will play a crucial role in the UK government meeting its carbon budgets and so we need to see a greater take-up of long-term emissions reduction measures,” said the CDP’s chief executive Paul Simpson.

The CBI reacted to the CDP’s report by arguing that firms’ ability to plan long term is being hampered by the government’s mixed carbon message.

“It is hard to set targets beyond 2020 when there is still so much uncertainty coming from our politicians,” said Dr Matthew Brown, the CBI’s head of energy and climate change.

“We need both national and global action to ensure we have a framework within which investors can make the right decisions and businesses can plan to decarbonise.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Garrett, group head of sustainability at infrastructure company Balfour Beatty, argues that long-term targets cannot be made in isolation.

“The CDP’s proposal is helpful for companies that lack long-term targets, but we have a 50% reduction target for 2020 and putting in a target beyond that will not change our current trajectory,” he said.

“When we approach 2020, we will be in a position to set new targets. Unless a target has some substance behind it, it’s a bit of an academic exercise and is in danger of heading into box-ticking territory.”

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