Progress on Carbon Budgets - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


The Government is required to set a series of five-year carbon budgets to restrict greenhouse gas emissions so that the UK's longer term statutory climate change targets are met. Four carbon budgets have been set covering the period up to 2027. In this report we explore the Government's response to our 2011 report on carbon budgets and take stock of progress against them. Compared with 2011, the case for strong action to avoid dangerous climate change has strengthened. The world is currently on track to warm by 4°C. The Committee on Climate Change's figures showed that in the UK emissions rose by 3.5% in 2012.

Climate models are not yet able to include some potentially significant feedback effects, but continue to be developed, improving our understanding. Since we last reported in 2011, there has been controversy about a mismatch between rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and negligible global temperature increases since the late 1990s, giving the false impression to some that the risk of climate change has become overstated. While the range of likely climate sensitivity may have slightly narrowed, most climate models are still consistent with observations and therefore do not lessen the imperative to take action to avoid dangerous climate change.

The carbon budgets are each split into a 'traded sector', which is based on the UK's share of the EU Emissions Trading System emissions limit and covers power and heavy industry, and a 'non-traded sector' covering road transport, agriculture and buildings. A lax EU ETS emissions limit may bring pressure to bear on the non-traded sector which will have to produce further emissions reductions to cover the gap left by the traded sector. But there are too many uncertainties at the moment to warrant reviewing and making any changes to the 2023-2027 fourth carbon budget. We concluded in 2011 that the fourth carbon budget as currently set represents the minimum needed to ensure that the emissions reduction target is met, and that loosening the budget following the planned review of that budget in 2014 would put achieving that target in jeopardy. That imperative has not diminished and the Government should commit to not loosening the fourth carbon budget, identify when it will come forward with key policies to bridge the required emissions cuts in the non-traded sector of the fourth carbon budget, and state how it plans to help strengthen the EU ETS.

The Carbon Plan—the Government's plan for meeting the carbon budgets—is out of date and requires revision. Arrangements for managing and reporting progress against the carbon budgets have not been working as intended and improvements are needed to enhance transparency. The National Emissions Target Board, charged with coordinating action across government and ensuring departments are held to account for their share of emissions reductions, should convene regularly and take control of identifying the new policies and incentives needed in the next two years to get the UK on track to meet the third and fourth carbon budgets.

Local authorities have an important role to play in driving down emissions, particularly those from buildings, transport and waste. However, there is a significant risk of inaction because of authorities' constrained fiscal position and the Government's decision not to implement the Committee on Climate Change's recommendation to place a statutory duty on local authorities to produce low-carbon plans. The Government should reconsider placing a statutory duty on local authorities to produce low-carbon plans for their area and work to ensure that all local authorities are measuring and reporting on their emissions.

The Committee on Climate Change found that on a consumption basis the UK's carbon footprint had increased over the past two decades so that the UK now had one of the largest footprints in the world. In preparation for a global deal on climate change in 2015, inevitably couched in terms of the 'production' of emissions, the Government should re-examine with the Committee on Climate Change the possibility of introducing a supplementary target focused on emissions 'consumption' embedded in imports, and the potential implications of such a target for the industrial strategies recently published by BIS.

In the main body of this report, conclusions are printed in bold and recommendations are printed in bold italics.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 8 October 2013