The Government has been warned there is no scientific basis for softening emissions targets

Don't water down climate targets committee warns

The Government has been warned not to water down climate change targets in next year's review of the fourth carbon budget.

In a report published today the Environmental Audit Committee concluded that the UK's existing carbon budgets represented the minimum level of emissions reduction required to avoid a global 2°C temperature rise – regarded as a dangerous tipping point that the world should aim to avoid.

While it found that the carbon budgets are still valid as an appropriate UK contribution to tackling climate change, the UK's leading climate scientists did not believe loosening the budgets was warranted by the science.

Committee chair Joan Walley MP said: "Some commentators are intent on spinning recent developments in climate science to suggest we can relax our efforts to cut carbon, in the mistaken belief that this would be better for our economy.

"Given that emissions are currently not falling fast enough to prevent a dangerous destabilisation of the global climate in the coming decades it would be incredibly short-sighted to slacken our carbon budgets now.

"The UK's leading climate scientists are saying loud and clear that there is no scientific case for watering down our long term emissions reduction targets. And the recent IPCC report echoes that message. Policy-makers must listen.”

The report found that the current (2008 to 2012) and second (2013 to 2017) carbon budgets will be met because of the recession, but the UK is not on track to meet the third (2018 to 2022) and fourth budgets (2023 to 2027), because not enough progress is being made in decarbonising transport, buildings and heat production.

The carbon budgets are made up of a traded sector element, achieved through the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) covering power generation and heavy industries, and a non-traded sector element covering road transport, agriculture, buildings, waste, achieved through UK domestic policies.

However, the current low-carbon price in the EU ETS – the result of over-allocation of emissions permits and the recession – means that scheme will not deliver the emissions reductions envisaged when the fourth carbon budget was set.

As a result, the report conluded that without any tightening of the EU ETS increased pressure will therefore be placed on the non-traded sector, which will have to produce further emissions reductions to cover the emerging gap left by the traded sector.

The committee also warns that the Government's Carbon Plan,  which set milestones for five key Government Departments to cut carbon, is out of date, quarterly progress reports against milestones have not been published as promised and current departmental business plans are not aligned with the plan.

Walley added: "The Government's current carbon plan seems to have been cobbled together merely to meet the legal requirement under the Climate Change Act.

“We want to see this become a working document that is fully aligned with Departmental Business Plans with meaningful milestones measured on a quarterly basis and an oversight board that is properly empowered to hold Departments to account."

"The Government should be introducing innovative policies now to ensure that Britain is well on the way to going green by the middle of the 2020s. Ministers need to show much more vision now on how we can cut waste, improve our public transport and insulate more homes and businesses from rising fossil fuel costs.

“If we leave these changes for another ten years it will become much more expensive to meet our climate change targets and we will be left behind by successful green countries like Germany."

In June the government narrowly avoided losing a vote on an amendment to the Energy Bill to add a 2030 decarbonisation target for the power sector by next April, rather than in 2016, but the committee has called for them to reconsider setting a target now rather than delaying the decision.

The report also calls for the Government to 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.

MPS also take aim at the low take-up of the Government’s flagship Green Deal – in March Greg Barker predicted 10,000 households would be signed up to the scheme by the end of the year but statistics show that only 12 Green Deals have gone 'live’ so far, with a further 293 households signed up to the scheme.

The committee says this shows there may be significant non-financial barriers as well as financial issues holding homeowners back from signing up, and they urge the Government to review the barriers in time to introduce new financial incentives in the Autumn Statement to bolster up-take.

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