Select Committee on Environmental Audit Second Report

UK emission levels, forecasts and the Government's Climate Change Programme

  6. The Committee was pleased to see the Government press ahead with their development of a Climate Change programme through the publication of a consultation paper, but was concerned that it did not specify firm dates for the adoption of a final strategy. The Environment Minister told the Committee that the Government had yet to take a decision on whether the consultation paper would be followed with a draft strategy or a real one, but he thought that they may have a final strategy at the end of 1999.[10] He explained it was necessary to take time over the preparation of the programme in order to build confidence in the process and win the participation of all concerned[11]; and to galvanise public opinion right across society[12]. We welcome the sectoral approach adopted in the climate change consultation as the basis for involving all in the effort to reduce emissions. And, as we said in our Fourth Report, we also consider that a consultative approach to the preparation of this strategy is vital.[13] We therefore urge the Government to do all it can to achieve genuine engagement in the strategy across society. However we are also concerned that momentum may be lost if the process of developing the strategy is too drawn out.

7. The Climate Change consultation paper incorporated new forecasts of future emissions, showing the UK to be on course with existing policy measures to achieve a ten per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 compared with 1990. Thus the programme will only be required to deliver a further 2 ½ per cent savings to reach the UK's legally binding target of 12 ½ per cent. Given this strong starting point, we were pleased to see that in addition to setting out possible measures which could more than achieve the legally binding target, the paper also identified further possible measures which could achieve the domestic aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2010.[14] We would urge the Government to confirm in its strategy the proposal the Environment Minister reported to us that the Government would make the extra effort to meet the domestic target of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions[15] and to set interim targets, as the basis for demonstrating progress by 2005 as required by the Protocol.

8. In our Fourth Report we highlighted the fact that the Government estimates there to be uncertainty of some ± 5 per cent in projections of future greenhouse gas emissions.[16] We therefore welcome the Government's commitment to consider in preparing the final programme a number of "worst case" scenarios in which emissions are projected to be higher than expected.[17] The consultation paper's forecast of reduced emissions is based mainly on a revision in forecasting methodology for emissions from road transport (the 1997 National Road Traffic Forecasts estimates replacing those of the 1995 Energy Paper 65). We note that it does not yet take account of any changes to emissions resulting from the Government's moratorium on gas fired power stations.[18] But we understand that new projections of the mix of fuels that will be used given the conditions in the energy supply market should be available in time to inform the final programme. In the light of inevitable uncertainties in the projections of emissions we continue to think it will be very important to set out explicitly in the programme, the degree of uncertainty in the projections and the headroom allowed for in the programme.

9. In our Fourth Report we urged the Government to adopt a fully rounded strategy addressing all Government activity in connection with Climate Change and to take an inclusive approach to it to secure the commitment of all parts of society.[19] We were therefore pleased to see that the Government intends to bring into their strategy a comprehensive view of the impacts of climate change in the UK and adaptation measures.[20] We further welcome the Government's listing of their support for Research and Development in their response to the Committee[21] and urge that this contribution should also be addressed in the final strategy. Such a rounded strategy would demonstrate the multitude of contributions from across Whitehall to the programme and promote greater cohesion, consistency and accountability and would show to the wider public their role in the changes required.

10. One element of the Government's consultation programme which, however, left us disappointed was its failure to put forward a leading role for the Government in tackling emissions from air traffic.[22] Emissions from domestic flights are counted in national emission inventories, and are to be tackled in the programme. But international flights are excluded from the counting under the Kyoto Protocol. Mr Meacher told us that aviation fuel emissions generate some two to three per cent of world emissions of greenhouse gases and that this is likely to increase if airline travel doubles by around 2015 as expected.[23] Mr Meacher clearly believed that the "anomaly" of the worldwide exemption of aviation fuel from taxation should be tackled. In evidence to the Committee he reiterated that it was for the International Civil Aviation Organisation to take action on a global level and that it expected to make proposals on fuel taxation and emissions charging by the year 2001.[24] The Government response to our Fourth Report also confirmed that the European Commission was expected to publish its study of the environmental and competitive effects of a European aviation fuel tax later in 1998 or early 1999.[25] On both counts Mr Meacher said the UK were pressing for action, but he did not draw attention to any more substantive contributions or particular pressure for greater urgency. We acknowledge the difficulties in tackling this issue on a national or even European basis, with the possibility of affecting airlines' competitiveness and introducing distortions through "tankerage" - the purchasing of more fuel in non-taxed countries to use in taxed countries. Nonetheless we consider it is crucial that aircraft emissions are tackled. We urge the Government to press the EU to take a lead on this matter, to achieve early completion of its research and take action within the EU, with a view to encouraging the introduction of such measures at the international level as soon as possible.

11. The Government's national communications on the UK Climate Change programme have provided detail on emissions performance.[26] They have been produced periodically as required under the Convention and presented to Parliament. We welcome the Government's assurance that, in addition to this, they will be addressing climate change in the sustainable development strategy, and therefore presumably in reports on progress on that strategy.[27] We certainly agree with the Government that emissions of greenhouse gases should be reported annually as one of the core indicators of sustainable development, as set out in Sustainability Counts, their consultation paper on this subject.[28] However it will also be important to report annually revised forecasts and sectoral contributions and individual policy contributions to performance so that where necessary early action can be taken to address any emerging shortfalls.

10   QQ 60-62 Back

11   Q58 Back

12   Q62 Back

13   Op. Cit. paragraph 44 Back

14   Op. Cit. paragraph 31 Back

15   Q43 Back

16   Op. Cit. paragraph 55  Back

17   Op. Cit. paragraph 33  Back

18   Op. Cit. paragraph 31 Back

19   Op. Cit. paragraph 42 Back

20   Government response to paragraph 42 of the Environmental Audit Committee Fourth Report 1997-98, Appendix I, pages xii to xxi Back

21   Government response to paragraph 44 Back

22   Op. Cit. paragraph 124 Back

23   Q24 Back

24   QQ 24- 28 Back

25   Government response to paragraph 39 Back

26   Climate Change:the UK programme Cm 2427 January 1994 and Climate Change: the UK programme, Second Report Cm 3558, February 1997 Back

27   Government response to paragraph 60 Back

28   Sustainability counts, consultation paper on a set of headline indicators, DETR. Back

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Prepared 12 February 1999