Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report


62. In March 2007, the Government published the draft Climate Change Bill. In its current form the Bill would enshrine in legislation a statutory CO2 reduction target of 26-32% by 2020, and at least 60% by 2050. In addition, an emission reduction trajectory would be established comprised of three five-year carbon budgets leading to the 2020 target. Every five years the Government would be required to lay before Parliament a compliance statement as to whether the budget had been met. An independent Committee on Climate Change would be established under the Bill to provide advice to the Government in respect to its emissions reductions policies, to report annually to Parliament as to progress towards targets and budgets, and to scrutinise the Government's compliance statement. More information about the draft Climate Change Bill and our views on it can be found in our Report Beyond Stern: From the Climate Change Programme Review to the Draft Climate Change Bill.

63. Nick Mabey told us in this inquiry that part of the reason why the Climate Change Programme had struggled to reduce emissions was a result of a failure by Ministers to appreciate the climate impact of their myriad policy decisions.[94] With regards to the Committee on Climate Change, Mr Mabey told us that the Strategy Unit had discussed the need for such a body in 2003 "because it was extremely clear that we needed someone who could authoritatively monitor what was going on and publicly discuss it, otherwise we would not do what we said we would do".[95] We asked Elliot Morley MP about the difficulties of balancing different Departmental objectives. He stressed that it is "inevitable that you will get conflicts in relation to priorities", although he made it clear that the Government must function with an eye to the economy, and that this can complicate the issue.[96]

64. The publication of the draft Climate Change Bill would seem to signify the Government's desire to address the failures of its past record on reducing effectively carbon dioxide emissions, by introducing a clearer long-term emissions reduction framework. With the creation of an independent Committee on Climate Change, and by making emission reduction targets statutory, the political risk generated by failing to reach such targets should help to focus the minds of Ministers and officials on the need to reduce emissions. In addition, if the independent Committee is able in its analysis to indicate which policies or Departments have caused targets not to be reached, accountability, and potentially therefore performance, should be improved. Nevertheless, although this progress is welcome, aspects of the evidence that we have received for this inquiry have indicated to us that there is a need for an additional policy framework to lead to further emission reductions.

65. Nick Mabey told us that the Committee on Climate Change should help to prevent the Government from nibbling away at the Climate Change Programme, which had occurred in the past partly due to a lack of information on the impact of such decisions. He also argued that currently the Government does not have the required information to understand which framework of policies should be delivered.[97] However, he was also concerned that the Committee would not have a long enough view to ensure that the decisions taken to meet interim targets would lead to the meeting of long-term targets.[98]

66. The Government has undertaken an analysis of long-term environmental and climate change challenges for the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007. However, this sought only to inform decisions for the next 10 years, which is arguably too short-term. In addition, it does not describe clearly how these challenges will be met or how policy conflicts will be resolved. Longer-term research has been carried out by Cambridge Econometrics, which indicates that the Government's 2020 climate change target is at risk of being missed under current policies:

    We expect carbon emissions to be some 15% lower by 2020, suggesting that the 20% goal will, on current policies, be hard to achieve even ten years later than originally envisaged. The House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee's August report on the Draft Climate Change Bill has urged the Government to set tougher and legally enforceable carbon reduction targets and recommended that the upper limit of 32% reduction by 2020 should be removed. But, as our forecasts show, even achieving at least a 26% reduction on 1990 levels, as required by the Government's interim target will be an uphill struggle unless the Energy White Paper is followed by robust policy measures that promote carbon reduction.

    'There are also a number of key uncertainties for the longer-term future. These include oil prices (current high prices are helpful for emissions reduction), the price of EU ETS allowances (their volatility is not conducive to emissions reduction, despite the current relatively high Phase 2 forward price of around €20/tCO2) and the behavioural response to that allowance price, particularly in power generation. Our projections have consistently identified the main barriers to a low-carbon economy to be higher emissions from the transport and household sectors, which are expected to rise to just under a half of the UK's CO2 emissions by 2010.[99]

67. The Tyndall Centre has also undertaken long-term research aiming to describe the range of policy measures that might be required to move the UK to a low-carbon economy. They used a 'backcasting' methodology to create scenarios for describing a transition to a low-carbon economy:

Figure 2: A 'backcasting' methodology

Source: Living within a carbon budget, Tyndall Centre, July 2006

68. Through the adoption of significant emission reduction targets, the Government has stated its intention radically to transform the UK economy through the dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Given the scale of the challenge there is a clear need for a long-term policy framework to identify the role everyone in Government has to play from individual policy makers up to Permanent Secretaries and Ministers. The starting point for this exercise should be an assessment of the likely structure of the UK economy in 2050, following at least a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Developing policies back from an end-point in this way must lead to the Government deciding against policies that lock-in long-term emissions that will result in the UK missing emissions targets, or will at least ensure that where a particularly high emission policy is adopted other policies will reduce emissions by the same amount. Part of this exercise will include the development of individual sectoral strategies describing the necessary effort to be borne by different parts of the economy.

69. Given the long-term nature of such an assessment, various factors of risk will need to be included including the pace of technological advancement and an assessment of long-term trends. Although there is inherent uncertainty in the creation of such a policy framework, such uncertainty can be factored in, and a framework will ensure better that trade-offs are made in a rational manner with an eye to 2050 objectives. The development of such a framework must be transparent, participatory, and will heavily draw on external expertise.

70. We heard from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), that there is a need also for such a policy framework to address the negative consequences of climate change:

    There should be a national framework which seeks to maximise the synergies between emissions reduction (dealing with the causes of climate change) and climate risk management measures (tackling the consequences of climate change). Without this there is a danger that efforts to reduce the extent of climate change later this century will actually increase our vulnerability to the impacts of already inevitable climate change over the next few decades.

    …Sustainable development will only be assured by building homes, commercial premises and infrastructure that can withstand the climate of tomorrow. Otherwise today's carbon neutral home will be at risk of becoming tomorrow's climate slum. And today's regeneration plans will fail as storms and floods cause damage, disruption and inexorable decline.[100]

71. The Government must, in conjunction with a new long-term policy framework, create a new long-term climate change impact policy framework. This will include the use of scenarios to identify those areas in 2050 likely to suffer from the negative impacts of climate change, such as flooding or water shortages, and use this information to inform appropriate planning policies. This is particularly important given the Government's plans dramatically to increase house building, especially in light of recent floods. It would be disastrous if as a result of inappropriate planning today these new developments become the climate slums of tomorrow.

94   Q 36 Back

95   Q 51 Back

96   Q 93 Back

97   Q 53 Back

98   Q 53 Back

99   "The government's long-term targets for renewables and a low carbon future are at risk: CE forecasts provide a 'reality check' on the rhetoric of climate change", Cambridge Econometrics, August 2007, Back

100   Ev 70 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 29 October 2007