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Ratcliffe-on-Soar Coal Fired power station
© 145/Travelpix Ltd/Ocean/Corbis
26 November 2015 0:01

CCC: Cut UK emissions 61% by 2030 for fifth carbon budget

Simon Evans


Simon Evans

26.11.2015 | 12:01am
UK policyCCC: Cut UK emissions 61% by 2030 for fifth carbon budget

The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 61% below 1990 levels during its fifth carbon budget period from 2028 to 2032, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The committee’s statutory advice to the UK government says new policies will be needed to meet this budget. However, further cuts to climate policies by the Conservative government in yesterday’s spending review add to a growing gap between forecast emissions and future targets.

Sepi Golzari-Munro, the UK programme head for climate policy thinktank E3G said in a statement:

The chancellor is…slashing renewables and energy efficiency investment, and eliminating CCS [carbon capture and storage] funding, making it almost impossible to meet our carbon budgets.

Carbon Brief picks out the key details from the CCC’s fifth carbon budget advice and reviews the latest government policy announcements.

Long-term goal

The UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 sets a legally-binding goal for an 80% emissions cut in 2050, against a 1990 baseline. Five-yearly carbon budgets provide stepping stones towards that long-term goal.

The first four of these cover 2008 to 2027, reaching a 52% emissions cut in the final budget period. The CCC gives advice on the level of each budget, which ministers must consider. If government does not to follow the CCC advice, it must explain why.

While no government has ever gone against the CCC, the process has not always been smooth. Speaking to Carbon Brief earlier this year, former secretary of state Ed Davey described coalition negotiations over the fourth carbon budget as “a bit of a war”.

After rumoured efforts by the Treasury to water it down, however, the target recommended by the CCC was ultimately accepted.

In preparing its advice on the carbon budgets, the CCC must consider a range of factors including near-term costs and the need to reach the long-term 2050 goal.

The committee looked at higher and lower goals for 2030. A weaker target would fit with the EU’s 2030 climate goals, the advice says, but would “fail to prepare sufficiently for the [UK’s] 2050 target as it could be met without roll-out of low-carbon vehicles or heating in the 2020s”.

The CCC says the target could be strengthened later on through UK effort or by buying emissions credits, if nations agree to raise ambition under the planned Paris climate deal. The deal is expected to fall short of the internationally agreed 2C goal.

Lord Deben, the CCC’s chair, says the fifth carbon budget advice would set the UK on the “lowest-cost path” to its 2050 goal of cutting emissions by 80%.

The committee will revisit this advice in light of the Paris outcome, writing to the secretary of state Amber Rudd in “early 2016”. Rudd must sign the fifth budget into law by the end of 2016.

Deben tells Carbon Brief he does not think the recommended emissions cuts for 2030 are likely to change in light of Paris. Deben told journalists earlier this week:

There is no elbow room in [the budget advice]. Let me be absolutely clear.

Matthew Bell, the CCC’s chief executive says the emissions cuts are achievable. He told journalists:

The budgets can be achieved, and can be achieved while balancing all the of the factors in the [Climate Change] Act. The Act requires the committee not just to trace out that least-cost path, but also to…[look at impacts on] the competitiveness of industry, on the affordability of energy for households, on the fiscal position of government…as well as energy security.

The CCC says it will cost less than 1% of GDP to meet the fifth budget, partially offset by up to 0.6% of co-benefits, including for health.

The CCC’s recommended fifth carbon budget is for a 57% reduction on 1990 levels for 2028-2032 (blue bar, chart below). This includes the UK’s share of international shipping emissions and an allowance for aviation, which remains outside this budget but must fall within the 2050 goal.

UK greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and the CCC's cost-effective path to the 2050 target

UK greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and the CCC’s cost-effective path to the 2050 target (green bar). The grey bars show the UK’s first four carbon budgets. The blue bar is the proposed fifth budget. The red lines show emissions projections from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Each budget includes an allowance for international aviation and shipping emissions (IAS). Source: CCC fifth carbon budget advice and projections from DECC. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Actual emissions would need to fall by 61% to meet this budget, the CCC says. The difference is a result of emissions accounting rules, with part of the UK’s emissions covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).

The legislated budget counts the UK’s allocation of EU traded emissions rather than actual output. The CCC says a separate cap for non-traded emissions should be fixed.

If it is not, a lower-than-expected EU ETS allocation would artificially reduce the need to cut non-traded emissions in the UK. This would make it easier to meet carbon budgets, even though UK emissions would not have fallen.

Similarly the CCC says international emissions credits should not be used to meet the budget.

Bell tells Carbon Brief:

If we are going to meet the 80% target…real [domestic] effort has to be made across all sectors…It will require action by government; it won’t just magically materialise.

Sandbag, a carbon trading thinktank, says the budget should be set using actual emissions — meaning the 2030 target would reflect the headline 61% reduction rather than the artificial 57%.

Emissions gap

Stepping back from the details of the budget advice these large carbon reductions appear increasingly distant, even though emissions fell dramatically last year.

DECC projections put the UK on course to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, as the chart above shows. Forecast emissions are 10% above both budgets, and this policy gap has grown.

The government says it remains committed to meeting the fourth carbon budget, however, and has promised to set out its plans to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets “towards the end of 2016”.

Deben says:

We know there are gaps, they know there are gaps. They will have to fill those in.

Those gaps risk turning into yawning chasms, following chancellor George Osborne’s spending review. Though not mentioned in his speech, the review axed a planned £1bn competition to commercialise carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS could halve the costs of meeting long-term climate targets, the CCC says. An industry-backed report said it is “essential” to climate-friendly fracking. It’s also vital to decarbonise heavy industry. David Cameron and climate secretary Amber Rudd have given CCS strong personal backing.

The chancellor also announced large reductions in planned funding for energy efficiency, renewable heat and DECC itself. The government had already moved to limit support for renewable energy and slashed its projections for new renewables capacity.

Prof Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, says in a statement:

This is the latest in a long line of setbacks to plans to demonstrate CCS in the UK…[It] also leads to questions about the compatibility of recent energy policy announcements with the UK’s legislated climate change targets. Without CCS available, the government’s plans to use gas as a ‘bridge’ to a low carbon future will have much more limited mileage in the medium term.

Paul Ekins, professor of resources and environmental policy at University College London says in a statement:

Prompt legislation on the CCC’s fifth carbon budget at the level it suggests will be the litmus test that shows that the government remains as committed to the UK’s carbon reduction agenda as it has claimed, despite the doubts raised by recent energy policy changes.

Update 28/1/16 – We amended the figure to make clear that it had been added to by Carbon Brief.

Main image: Ratcliffe-on-Soar Coal Fired power station, Nottingham, UK. Credit: © 145/Travelpix Ltd/Ocean/Corbis.

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