Committee says UK ‘cannot afford further delays’ in setting fifth carbon budget in the wake of the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change
April 27, 2016 — The government should approve the UK’s 2030s carbon target in the wake of the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change, an influential committee of MPs has urged.
The so-called fifth carbon budget sets a limit on the quantity of greenhouse gases that can be produced across the country between 2028 and 2032, as a way of meeting national and international commitments on combating global warming.
It is set by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the statutory body set up under the Climate Change Act, but must be approved by parliament before it can enter into force.
“The UK can’t afford any further delays when it comes to replacing dirty power stations with cleaner forms of generation,” said Angus MacNeil, the chair of the energy and climate change select committee. “Investors need certainty and setting a decarbonisation target for the energy sector would signal the government’s commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.”
UK carbon budgets
The MPs also recommended that the UK’s share of international transport should be included for the first time in a carbon budget, and that ministers should set stringent limits on emissions from electricity generation. The government has already said the targets set in Paris would be legally binding.
Last time a carbon budget was set, during the coalition government in 2011, David Cameron had to step in to quell a potential backbench revolt among his MPs. At the time, they were promised a Treasury review of the fourth carbon budget as a compromise.
This time, the budget will come up for consideration during the feverish preparations for the referendum on EU membership, in which environmental measures have come under increasing attack from those favouring a Brexit.
The government is supposed to approve the fifth carbon budget by the end of June, or face a judicial review. However, ministers may try to alter this timetable because of the unprecedented disruption of the referendum.
The CCC has warned that new houses should be built to higher standards in order to meet the budget, but the government has not yet unveiled plans to reach this.
In an acknowledgement that the passage of the budget could be controversial, MacNeil said: “Should the government deviate from the Committee on Climate Change’s advice for the fifth carbon budget, we will be looking carefully for a robust evidence base on any alternative level [of emissions] proposed.”
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate group of companies which support green aims, said: “Now is the time to translate international commitments into a new set of national policies to guide cost-effective investment in energy efficiency, low-carbon transport and clean energy technologies over the next 15 years.
“It is key to the UK’s future economic competitiveness that it continue to support the growth of a low-carbon economy, while also taking care to provide the necessary support to its energy-intensive sectors during this transition.”
Emma Pinchbeck, head of energy and climate change at WWF, said: “It’s crunch time on climate policy. The government must accept and act on the committee’s advice and avoid the temptation to use smoke and mirrors to lower the level of ambition. We need a clear plan to reduce carbon emissions that is supported by colleagues in the Treasury and across government departments.”
Under the fifth carbon budget, which would run from 2028 to 2032, the UK would emit no more than 1,765m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or a 60% cut by 2030.
The Committee on Climate Change has confirmed that it is sufficient to meet the UK’s obligations under the Paris agreement, although campaigners complained that the CCC only considered the Paris-set target of limiting warming to no more than 2°C, instead of the agreement’s more stretching aspiration of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
In its report, Setting the Fifth Carbon Budget, published on Wednesday, the energy and climate change select committee said the government should also set a target of limiting emissions from the power generation sector to 100g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.
Under the Climate Change Act, which was voted in nearly unanimously by MPs, the UK must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared with 1990 levels by mid-century, which mirrors the commitments likely to be necessary by all developed countries if warming is to be limited to 2C.
In Paris last December, almost every country in the world – developing as well as developed – agreed to adopt the 2°C limit and “pursue efforts” to limit warming to only 1.5°C. But the agreement did not contain detail on specific measures required to meet this, instead leaving it to national governments to set limits on their emissions with a five-year review period to ensure they are sufficient to meet the long-term targets.
The UK has met its first three carbon budgets but further policies may be needed to meet the fourth. The Climate Change Act, which has since been copied by other countries, was the first to set carbon budgets and to ensure that they extended well beyond the term of the parliament in which they were approved, in order to bind future governments to long-term policy commitments.