Government 'must do more, faster' to meet legally binding carbon reduction targets

By Agencies
January 18, 2018

The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, required under the Climate Change Act, sets out the next steps to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.

Although ambitious, the Strategy does not go far enough. Urgent action is needed to flesh out current plans and proposals, and supplement them with additional measures, to meet the UK’s legally-binding carbon targets in the 2020s and 2030s, the Committee on Climate Change says.

The UK has made good progress in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions since the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008, nearly ten years ago. Emissions fell by 42 per cent from 1990 to 2016 – faster than the average rate of reduction in the G7.

The Clean Growth Strategy commits to delivering further action towards meeting the fourth (2023-27) and fifth (2028-32) carbon budgets, on the path to reducing UK emissions by at least 80 per cent in 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

The Strategy also reaffirms the UK’s desire to remain at the forefront of tackling climate change globally. This makes it all the more important for UK carbon budgets to be met through actions to reduce emissions domestically, the basis on which they were originally set.

However, significant gaps still remain. Even if delivered in full, existing and new policies, including those set out in the Clean Growth Strategy, miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets by around 10-65 MtCO2e – a significant margin.

The findings are part of the Committee’s new report, ‘An independent assessment of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy: From ambition to action’. In particular, the Committee recommends that the Government:

  • Urgently firm up policies and proposals in the Clean Growth Strategy. More detail is needed about plans to phase out sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040; increase the energy efficiency of our homes by 2035; improve the energy efficiency standards of new buildings; phase out installation of the most polluting fossil fuel heating in homes and businesses off the gas grid; generate 85 per cent of the UK’s electricity from low-carbon sources by 2032; improve the energy efficiency of UK businesses and industry by 2030; and deploy carbon capture and storage technology at scale in the UK in the 2030s. All of these policies, amongst other actions, will have to be delivered in full and on time in order to realise the required emissions savings.
  • Develop and implement new policies to close the remaining ‘emissions gap’ to the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. There is a particular risk around meeting the fourth carbon budget which begins in just five years’ time. Urgent domestic measures are required and could include: greater near-term improvements in the energy efficiency of UK buildings (especially in able-to-pay households); steps to ensure a larger proportion of heating from heat networks comes from low-carbon sources; action to drive greater uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and improve energy efficiency of conventional vehicles by 2030; an extension of the UK landfill ban to cover other waste including wood and plastics; higher levels of tree planting and actions to reduce emissions from agriculture.
  • Address the risks of under-delivery. Existing and new policies to reduce emissions carry significant delivery risks. The timely completion of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is one example. Risks that cannot be removed now must be actively managed. This is particularly important in the context of the Paris Agreement, where the UK, along with almost every country in the world, has signed up to a deal that will require increasing efforts to reduce emissions in the future.

The publication of the Clean Growth Strategy is not the end of the process. Although the Government has proposed a set of milestones to ensure progress is being made, the Committee recommends supplementing these with additional milestones to ensure the required emissions reductions are delivered in time. The Committee will monitor progress in its annual reports to Parliament.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said, “The Clean Growth Strategy is ambitious in its aims to build a thriving low-carbon Britain but ambitions alone are not enough. As it stands, the Strategy does not deliver enough action to meet the UK’s emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s. The Government’s policies and proposals will need to be firmed up as a matter of urgency – and supplemented with additional measures – if the UK is to deliver on its legal commitments and secure its position as an international climate change leader.”

Responding to the Climate Change Committee’s report, ClientEarth lawyer Jonathan Church said, “We warmly welcome the CCC’s assessment of the government’s Clean Growth Strategy. Like the CCC, ClientEarth has long waited to see a robust plan from government for meeting our carbon budgets and, though the Clean Growth Strategy moved things in the right direction, we agree with the CCC that further policy development is urgently needed.

“The CCC’s assessment is also a valuable reminder that developing new policy is not enough. Progress can go backwards as well as forwards as new risks emerge to the delivery of existing policy plans. The CCC is right therefore to focus on the effectiveness of the governance arrangements which the Clean Growth Strategy re-established after they had in recent years fallen into disuse – in particular, how the implementation of the Strategy must be supported by the Clean Growth Inter-Ministerial Group and a system of comprehensive policy milestones.

“The CCC has also, rightly, been consistent that “flexibilities” should be no distraction from the task of getting the UK back on track to meeting its legally binding carbon budgets. The clear message is that, as welcome as the positive tone around the Clean Growth Strategy was, the ball remains very firmly in the government’s court to go much further than it has done so far.”

Read An independent assessment of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy: From ambition to action here

* Client Earth https://www.clientearth.org/

* Committee on Climate Change  https://www.theccc.org.uk/

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