Progress on Carbon Budgets - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


Conclusions


The Carbon budgets

1.  The carbon budgets are intended to reflect the UK's share of a global effort on emissions reduction with only around a 50% chance of global temperature rises not exceeding 2oC—the threshold widely accepted as a benchmark for dangerous climate change. We are, however, globally on course for temperature rises of 4oC. The default assumption should therefore be that the carbon budgets represent the minimum level of emissions reduction required by the climate change science. 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, suggesting to some that the risk of climate change has been 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. (Paragraph 18)

2.  We welcome the Government's support for the European Commission's proposal for a higher level of ambition on tackling climate change. The existing EU target of a 20% emissions reduction by 2020 needs to be tightened to 30% to put Europe on a trajectory more likely to avoid dangerous climate change. A 40% or 50% target for 2030 is essential for maintaining momentum across Europe. (Paragraph 24)

3.  A low carbon price—the result of structural weaknesses in the EU Emissions Trading System and the economic downturn of recent years—means that the traded sector of the UK's carbon budgets (power generation and heavy industry) will be met. But that may bring pressure to bear on the non-traded sector (road transport, agriculture, buildings, waste) 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 justify reviewing and making any change to the 2023-2027 fourth carbon budget. The Government has yet to determine what emissions reductions may be possible from addressing policy initiatives in vehicle emissions, low-carbon heat and other key areas. And it is too soon to be confident about what EU ETS reforms might be possible beyond the scheme's current 2020 horizon. It is also far from clear in what circumstances a 'significant change', required under the Climate Change Act to make a change to previously agreed carbon budgets, can be identified. (Paragraph 36)

4.  The UK has one of the largest carbon footprints in the world and the recent increase in emissions embedded in imports has more than offset reductions in domestic emissions. We welcome the Government's commitment to monitor the UK's carbon consumption footprint. (Paragraph 42)

Management of carbon budgets

5.  The Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation are key policies for meeting the carbon budgets. Although it may be too soon to judge the schemes' success, low take-up rates so far may indicate significant non-financial barriers as well as financial issues for homeowners. (Paragraph 53)

6.  A decarbonisation target for the energy sector is needed to address political risk and provide medium term certainty to investors in renewable energy. We are dissatisfied that the Government is not willing to set such a target before 2016. (Paragraph 59)

7.  Arrangements for managing and reporting progress against the carbon budgets have not been working as intended and improvements are needed to enhance transparency. The Carbon Plan is out of date and requires revision to reflect the changes to policies and departmental business plans since 2011. The document appears to be intended to meet a legal requirement of the Climate Change Act rather than designed to play a meaningful role in managing the carbon budgets. The Committee on Climate Change and the Government use different indicators to measure progress, making it difficult to form an independent assessment of the sufficiency of policies to cut emissions. The National Emissions Target Board—the main oversight body—has met infrequently and there is limited evidence that it is holding departments to account for their progress. The recession-driven out-performance of early carbon budgets increases the risk that these deficiencies will continue unchecked. (Paragraph 68)

8.  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. (Paragraph 73)


 
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Prepared 8 October 2013