The UK government was under fire today for "undermining" the European Union's fight against climate change by auctioning off carbon allowances for the first time and not earmarking the cash for "green" projects.

Around four million permits are being distributed today under a new phase of the European Union's (EU) emissions trading scheme (ETS) with expected receipts of up to £60m going to the Treasury for general spending purposes.

"The policy of the UK government on this issue undermines the very purpose of the EU ETS... Auctioning undermines this flexible mechanism as it takes money away from those who can do something about climate change, the emitters, and it gives it to those who can't, the politicians," said James Emanuel at emissions trading broker, CantorCO2e.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said ministers should change their mind and use the cash specifically for projects such as improving energy efficiency of homes, investing in low-carbon technologies and helping poorer countries cope with climate change.

"This is a great opportunity to help poorer households make their homes both cheaper to heat and warmer, and create jobs through investment in new green technologies," said Lisa Harker, IPPR co-director.