The CCC has said there is "no legal or economic basis" to amend the UK's legally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets

'No basis' for watering down UK emission targets

The government’s climate change advisers have said greenhouse gas emission targets should not be watered down.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said there was presently "no legal or economic basis" to amend the UK's legally binding greenhouse gas reduction totals for the period 2023 to 2027.

In an intervention likely to reignite coalition conflict on the issue, the panel of experts said sticking to the target was the "minimum" the UK needed to contribute to global action.

Chancellor George Osborne has warned the UK risks pricing itself out of international markets if it gets "out there in front of the rest of the world" and must keep green measures under review.

He backs a future energy strategy which could see the UK construct up to 40 new gas plants – putting it at risk of breaching the existing targets.

Campaigners fear the Chancellor will seek to use a review of the "fourth carbon budget" scheduled for next year to relax the requirements, blaming the failure of the EU to agree sufficiently tough targets.

But the CCC concluded that the UK was "not acting alone" as other countries had ambitious commitments and that the present target was the "minimum UK contribution to required global action".

Loosening the target "would be bad for business confidence and undermine the UK's credibility in current negotiations over EU ambition", it cautioned.

CCC chairman, Tory peer Lord Deben, urged the government to make a swift announcement of its intentions – or risk getting left behind in the race to attract low-carbon investment and jobs.

"A protracted process would exacerbate current uncertainties about its commitment to supporting investment in low-carbon technologies," he said.

Environmental levies have also become a political hot potato as party leaders battle over how to reduce spiralling domestic energy bills, with Prime Minister David Cameron pledging to scale them back.

But Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has pledged to fight any "hasty, ill-thought-through change" in Osborne's Autumn Statement, will use a speech today to claim only his party remains committed to the green agenda.

"The same Conservative and Labour politicians who used to shout at one another across the Despatch Box: 'you don't care about the environment, we're the greenest' now turn the accusation on its head: 'you care too much about the environment, you're the greenest'," he will say.

"The green consensus across the political parties is, I'm afraid, falling away. And at the worst possible time.

“Conventional wisdom tells us that the environment must now go on the backburner while we prioritise our economic recovery, but I believe the opposite is true. If there was ever a time to sharpen our focus on our green commitments, it's now."

Delivering the Green Alliance Leadership Lecture in central London, he will add: "Our view is simple: the government made a commitment to the environment, and we must now stay the course.

"We stuck to our guns on the economic strategy and deficit reduction, despite endless calls to abandon it. We did that because it is right for the generations that will follow us. And in exactly the same way, for exactly the same reason, we must hold our nerve on the environment too.

"China, India, America, Germany, Brazil; the race is on with our competitors for green global investment. And if we want to keep up, our green industries need maximum political support.

"My coalition partners talk a lot about winning the global race: well this is one area where we are in pole position and it would be a huge mistake to take our foot off the pedal now: economic myopia of the worst kind."

Greenpeace policy director Doug Parr said: "Other countries are getting ahead in the global green race with low-carbon solutions. But here in the UK, the Treasury persists with its scientifically illiterate campaign to unravel domestic climate policy.

"The Climate Change Act was a ground-breaking attempt to take meaningful action on greenhouse gas emissions and the Lib Dems must not allow it to be compromised with a watered-down fourth carbon budget."

But Gareth Stace, head of Climate and Environment Policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said that while he agreed with the CCC's evidence he didn’t support the conclusion.

“The Committee on Climate Change is right to say that the scientific evidence hasn’t changed but that’s far from the whole story,” he said.

“Climate change policies are pushing UK electricity prices ahead of the rest of Europe and they are set to rise further. It’s vital that government undertakes a full review of all the evidence before deciding on the 4th Carbon Budget and ensures that British industry isn’t saddled with further unilateral cost increases.”

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