The government today announced it will leave the UK’s emission reduction targets as they are.
The UK has a legally binding obligation to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 on 1990 levels. To ensure progress is made at a steady pace, four interim targets were included in the law – known as carbon budgets.
It has been reported for some time that chancellor George Osborne wanted to weaken these targets, opening the door for increased use of gas power. The government’s advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has always maintained there were no grounds for such a move.
The UK met its first carbon budget and is currently making progress towards the second. The chancellor was reportedly looking to change the fourth carbon budget, covering the period from 2023 to 2027, which is roughly when new gas capacity might be expected to come online.
The budget requires emissions to be reduced by 50 per cent on 1990 levels in 2025. Having gone through a review of the basis of the fourth carbon budget, the government today decided to keep that target.
No change of circumstance
The Climate Change Act says the government can legally change the carbon budget if there were “significant changes” in circumstances since the target was set. Changes in the scientific evidence on climate change, economic circumstances, and the rate at which other countries are decarbonising can all be considered.
Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey says the fourth carbon budget review made it “clear that the evidence does not support amending the budget”, with the government’s decision being “consistent with the advice of the Committee on Climate Change”.
In November, the CCC released a report assessing developments in two areas: the evidence base underlying the science of climate change, and the level of action other countries are taking to reduce emissions.
On climate science, the committee concluded that there was no change. The latest scientific evidence – synthesised in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent reports – confirms that without action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is a very high risk that the world is going to be exposed to dangerous climate change. So the world still needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.
The report also concluded that there hasn’t been any significant change in other country’s plans to reduce emissions since 2011.
The government says that the UK’s plans for reducing emissions from the power sector in particular should match the likely effect the EU emissions trading scheme would have on the sector. In other words, we should do the same as the rest of Europe.
The CCC argues the UK’s emissions reductions budget should be in line with the European Commission’s recommended regional target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2030. The CCC says the fourth carbon budget means the UK will be matching this level of ambition – more or less.
Must do more
Deciding to leave the fourth carbon budget alone is a politically significant step. But now the government has to implement policies to ensure it hits the target.
The CCC’s latest progress report shows that could be tricky. The first budget was met largely because of the 2008 economic crisis slashing industrial output and ripping a hole in consumers’ pockets, the CCC says. Lower output and lower demand reduced the need to burn fossil fuels in power stations, cars and boilers.
Without the impact of the crash and a particularly cold winter in 2010, emissions would have fallen by around 1 per cent per year between 2007 and 2012. To meet the fourth carbon budget in 2027 that rate will need to triple.
Emissions in 2025 need to be cut by 31 per cent (175 million tonnes) compared to the 564 million tonnes emitted in 2013, the CCC says. But current policies will only take emissions down by a maximum of 23 per cent, it says.
Davey says today’s decision “demonstrates the UK’s commitment to its climate change target”. Now, the government must focus on ensuring it delivers.