The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has issued a statement saying there is “no legal or economic basis” for loosening the UK’s commitments. The government advisor appears to be readying for a fight with the Treasury: the Chancellor, who is due to announce this year’s autumn statement in a few weeks, and who has previously indicated he wants to relax limits on emissions.
The government sets a limit, known as a carbon budget, on the total amount of greenhouse gases the UK should emit over a five year period in accordance with the Climate Change Act. Following pressure from the chancellor, the CCC had agreed to review the level of the fourth carbon budget, which extends from 2023 to 2027, next year. Today’s announcement is the latest to suggest it will not recommend lowering the current target of halving UK emissions by 2027, relative to 1990 levels.
The CCC’s announcement comes just before two major political events: the UN climate negotiations in Warsaw kick off on Monday, and the chancellor’s Autumn statement (a mini-budget) comes at the start of December.
Liberal Democrat energy secretary, Ed Davey, has called the 2015 deadline for renewing a global climate deal – to which the Warsaw talks are an important precursor – “make or break” for efforts to combat climate change.
Ministers will travel to Poland to promote climate action without the backing of the whole cabinet, however. Chancellor George Osborne called for the UK’s own carbon budget to be reviewed before the next election. He reportedly hopes loosening the carbon budget’s constraints could open the door to an exapansion of gas power, and boost the economy.
The CCC’s announcement may be timed to challenge any further moves which would imply a relaxed carbon budget, such as the shale gas industry tax breaks Osborne announced in the last Autumn statement.
Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report earlier this week claiming the world could have expended its global carbon budget by 2034 if nations keep emitting at current rates. In reaction to today’s CCC’s statement, PricewaterhouseCoopers says the CCC is right to highlight that adjusting the fourth carbon budget could undermine confidence that “long term government policy will deliver what is needed to tackle climate change”.
The CCC says the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest science report, which came out last month, mean its advice to reduce emissions stands. It says:
“… temperature increase of four degrees is likely if global emissions continue to rise; that significant cuts in global emissions are necessary to limit this risk; [and therefore] emissions cuts to meet the fourth carbon budget are a minimum UK contribution to required global action.”
The European Union is currently considering its emission reduction commitments through the 2020s. The UK has suggested all EU countries should commit to 40 per cent emissions cuts by 2030, with the option of increasing this to 50 per cent if there is a new international agreement in 2015.
In its statement, the CCC suggests that the fourth carbon budget’s emissions limit is towards the lower end of what’s being discussed among European countries, and the committee points out that if the UK gets its way in the negotiations, the government will actually need to tighten the fourth carbon budget.
Nonetheless, the CCC’s announcement comes in advance of an expected struggle over the extent of the government’s commitment to emissions reductions. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is sue to set out Liberal Democrat commitment to decarbonisation in a speech today, which will place the coalition partners rhetorically at odds over policy.
The opening exchanges of any forthcoming carbon budget wrangle will be fired in Warsaw, before returning to the domestic scene for the Autumn statement.
The timing of the CCC’s announcement looks intended to limit the government’s wiggle room when it comes to watering down the UK’s commitment to emission reductions.