The UK is on track to exceed its self-imposed carbon budget for 2018-2022 unless the government develops new policies during the next two years.
That is the warning in the latest update from the Committee on Climate Change, the independent advisors to the government.
The carbon budgets were established as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act but although that legislation enjoyed cross-party support, efforts to hit the targets it proposed appear to be falling behind schedule.
“Although the first carbon budget has been comfortably achieved and the second budget is likely to be achieved, this is largely due to the impact of the economic downturn,” said David Kennedy, chief executive of the CCC.
“There remains a very significant challenge delivering the 3% annual emissions reduction required to meet the third and fourth carbon budgets, particularly as the economy returns to growth,” he said.
“Government action is required over the next two years to develop and implement new policies. A failure to do this would raise the costs and risks associated with moving to a low-carbon economy.”
The UK’s emissions rose by 3.5% last year, largely the result of increased home heating during a cold winter and the swapping of cleaner gas for cheaper coal.
The CCC estimates that if these short term factors are ignored, emissions would have fallen by around 1%, still short of the 3% per annum necessary.
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey welcomed the CCC’s acknowledgment of recent successes. He also contradicted the findings of the CCC report by claiming that the country was on trakc to hit the third carbon budget as well as the first two.
“The UK takes its obligations under the Climate Change Act, to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, very seriously. That is why we are on course to overachieve against the first three carbon budgets, taking us to 2022. We are also working to encourage other countries to follow our lead; for example, pushing for the EU to adopt a 50% emissions reduction target by 2030, as part of a global deal in 2015.
“We recognise the challenges ahead in meeting the fourth carbon budget. As stated in our Carbon Plan, we will need additional policies to meet this legally binding goal. We have already published scenarios for how we might achieve the fourth carbon budget and remain committed to doing so.
“We will consider the recommendations put forward by the CCC, and respond formally to the report by October, as required by the Climate Change Act.”
The government recently dropped a 2030 decarbonisation target of the electricity sector from the new energy bill with an amendment for its inclusion narrowly defeated.
Supporters of the proposal, including the CCC, claimed it would provide long term certainty for the country’s renewable energy sector.
“The CCC’s message in this progress report is clearly ‘must try harder’ – and the Government needs to listen,” said Nick Molho, head of climate and energy policy, WWF-UK.
“As the Committee so rightly says, dragging our heels over shifting to the low-carbon economy simply means that the costs of reducing emissions will ultimately become higher and the economic benefits smaller. It is a ‘lose, lose’ approach.
“It’s also extremely worrying that there are signs that the Government is looking to water down the fourth carbon budget; to do so at a time when the need for urgent action on climate change is greater than ever would be an abdication of leadership and responsibility,” added Molho.