Review of carbon budgets nothing new, Ed Davey tells committee
- 19 Dec 2012, 12:30
- Robin Webster
Is the UK on track for a 'dash for gas' - and has its approach
to the UK climate change act changed? When the UK's gas strategy
was released a couple of weeks ago, it looked like a new enthusiasm
for gas power could be driving the government
lower its carbon cutting ambitions. But yesterday, energy and
climate change minister Ed Davey told a committee of MPs that the
government's policy hasn't changed at all and it is on track to
deliver on the targets in its carbon plan.
The government's gas strategy - busting UK carbon
George Osborne launched the government's new
gas strategy with the Autumn statement a couple of weeks ago,
it included three different scenarios for the future development of
the UK power sector. One of these proposed that 37 gigawatts of gas
- or about forty new power stations - might be constructed by 2030,
fair bit of media attention.
The government says this level of build, combined with a policy
to expand production of power from renewables and nuclear, would
reduce the emissions intensity of the power sector to 200 grams of
carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity by 2030.
This is four times the level that government advisor the
Committee on Climate Change (CCC)
recommends is necessary if the government is going to hit its
emissions reductions targets under the climate change act. The CCC
says that the UK should set a 'decarbonisation target' for the
power sector that is much lower - just 50 grams of carbon dioxide
per kilowatt hour of electricity by 2030. When Osborne announced
the strategy the chief executive of the CCC
denounced the 37GW scenario as "completely incompatible" with
the government's plans to cut carbon.
A change of policy?
The gas strategy recognises that building 37GW of new gas power
over the next couple of decades would put the UK on a different
emissions trajectory to the one recommended by the CCC. It
justifies this on the basis that other countries in the European
Union (EU) are not taking as much action to reduce emissions from
the power sector, as the EU-wide caps set by the Emissions Trading
Scheme (ETS) are not as stringent.
"The UK is pushing for the EU to show
more ambition by moving to a tighter 2020 emissions target, which,
in turn, will drive a more stringent EU ETS cap. We will review our
progress in early 2014 and if, at that point, our domestic
commitments place us on a different trajectory from the one agreed
by our partners in the EU under the ETS, we will revise up our
budget as appropriate to align it with the actual EU
In other words, the UK will undertake a review of where the EU's
carbon cutting plans have got to in 2014. If the EU hasn't agreed
to implement stronger cuts by then, the UK won't either.
The 'budget' referred to is the fourth carbon budget set by the
CCC, which covers 2023 to 2027. The CCC's carbon
budgets limit UK emissions over five year periods. They are
designed to ensure the UK cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per
cent by 2050 to meet its legally binding targets under the
Climate Change Act.
The comments in the gas strategy looked
to us and others like the government might be planning to
weaken its commitment to the climate change act. But yesterday
afternoon, Ed Davey argued to the
energy and climate change committee that government policy has
not changed, referencing statements made by his predecessor Chris
Back in June 2011, Huhne announced that the government will
"undertake a review of progress" on its carbon budgets in early
2014 "to ensure our own carbon targets are in line with the
In the same statement, Huhne said:
"If at that point our domestic
commitments place us on a different emissions trajectory than the
Emissions Trading System trajectory agreed by the EU, we will, as
appropriate, revise up our budget to align it with the actual EU
This phrase is almost identical to the one contained in the gas
strategy a year and a half later, so actually it doesn't look like
the gas strategy was floating a new idea - it was repeating
something the government had already suggested.
100 grams - a central assumption, but not a
The 37GW scenario is only one of three contained within the gas
strategy. There are two others.
In the 19GW of gas scenario, the emissions intensity of the UK
power sector is reduced to 50g of carbon dioxide per Kilowatt hour
- as the CCC
recommends is necessary.
In the 26GW scenario, about 30 new gas power stations are built
and the emissions intensity of the UK power sector falls to 100g of
carbon dioxide per Kilowatt hour by 2030.
Davey argued yesterday that the 100g scenario is "the central
planning assumption of the gas generation strategy" and for "the
whole of our climate change policy". But the
energy bill doesn't contain any such target - and the
government has said that it won't make a decision on whether to
introduce one until after the next election. Yesterday, the chair
of the energy and climate change committee
Tim Yeo announced that he would be submitting an amendment to
the energy bill to introduce a 100g target by 2030.
Government policy still up in the air
So, according to Davey, government policy has not changed, and
the government is still aiming to reduce emissions from the power
sector to 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hours by
This position will, however, be reviewed again in 2014. If the
rest of the EU hasn't decided to make more ambitious emissions cuts
by then, the government will presumably plan to build more gas
power up to 2027. But under intensive questioning, Davey told Labour MP Alan
Whitehead yesterday that the UK is
"...working on the assumption that the
EU will improve on its climate change agreement".