The UK has a target of reducing its carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008. To meet this target, the UK also sets “carbon budgets” on how much carbon it can emit in a five-year period.
Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change this week said “the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s”, based on the carbon budgets for that period. The Committee on Climate Change is an independent body which advises the government on emissions targets, and was formed under the Climate Change Act 2008.
The UK sets five-yearly carbon budgets
“They restrict the amount of greenhouse gas the UK can legally emit in a five year period”, with the goal of reducing the UK’s carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.This week, a report by the Committee on Climate Change said “Our conclusion is that the Government's current plans and proposals are not on track to meet carbon budgets.”
They point out that in its Clean Growth Strategy, “the Government stated that a 5% yearly reduction (in emissions) was required to 2032 to meet the fifth carbon budget. The reduction in 2017 was therefore not on track”—it was around 4% in reality.
They also point to three key reasons why the government is not on track to meet its carbon budgets in the 2020s and 2030s:
They identify that two-thirds “of potential emissions reductions from existing policies are at risk of underdelivery.”
A range of “ambitious proposals” the government made in its Clean Growth Strategy for dealing meeting emissions targets (such as phasing out sales of conventional cars and vans by 2040) are yet to be “turned into firm policies”.
“There are cost-effective opportunities to further reduce emissions” where there is no government policy in place, and these aren’t being realised. They include creating “a route to market for the cheapest forms of low-carbon electricity generation (i.e. onshore wind and solar)”.
What has the government said?
In its Clean Growth Strategy from October 2017, the government recognised that it would probably not meet its targets for the two carbon budgets running between 2023 and 2032: “Our current estimated projection for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets suggests that we could deliver 94 per cent and 93 per cent of our required performance against 1990 levels”.
They point out that they are allowed some “flexibility” in meeting these budgets, under the terms of the Climate Change Act 2008. For instance, they can “borrow” carbon usage from a future budget (which is then itself “tightened”), with the Committee on Climate Change’s approval.
They also argued at the time that “ambitious policies and proposals set out in this Strategy, and the rapid progress and accelerating pace of changes in low carbon technologies so far, suggest that we may not need to use this option.” However, the Committee on Climate Change’s most recent assessment suggests that evidence for this progress is yet to be brought to light.
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