Carbon budget row risks UK influence at UN climate talks

The Climate Change Committee has said there is no reason for the UK government to revise its climate budget

Lord Deben stresses the UK's leadership role (Source: Flickr / NTNU Nyskaping)

Lord Deben stresses the UK’s leadership role (Source: Flickr / NTNU Nyskaping)

By Sophie Yeo

Changes to the UK’s carbon targets could undermine its influence on UN climate negotiations, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned.

In a review of the UK’s fourth carbon budget, which limits emissions to 1,950 MtCO2e over the period 2023 to 2027, the Committee said that little had changed in the science and international and EU policy scenes since the budget was set in 2011.

As a result it says there should be no change to the budget, which the UK is legally committed to meeting as a result of the 2008 Climate Change Act.

The government is expected to review the fourth budget in early 2014 – a process that some have worried could lead to a weakening of the targets.

Consultants PwC welcomed the intervention five days before a major UN climate summit is set to open in Warsaw.

“The Committee is right to highlight the danger of changing tack or rolling back regulations, as it could undermine business and investor confidence that long term government policy will deliver what is needed to tackle climate change,” said PwC’s Jonathan Grant.

“Legally binding treaties or not, the slower the progress, the bigger the bill, and unpredictability we could face.”

Politically sensitive

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is likely to add to these fears when he highlights the ongoing presence of climate sceptics at the top of government, in a speech to the think tank Green Alliance later today.

He will refer to the fact that there are still senior members of the Conservative party who “openly attack environmental policies as anti-growth, as well as publicly question the threat of climate change.”

The CCC, an independent committee, is expected to provide further evidence this December.

The government may revise the targets if they discover any significant changes since the tough carbon budget was personally approved by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011. And although they may reject the advice of the CCC, to do so would likely provoke a major political row.

“The UK takes its obligations under the Climate Change Act, to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, extremely seriously,” said a spokesperson from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, adding that it would consider the advice of the CCC in more detail ahead of the Secretary of State’s decision.

EU and UN

The strength of the fourth carbon budget is a policy decision that punches above its weight, with an important influence on both EU and international policy, both of which are currently at a critical junction in terms of future ambition.

The EU is due to release its climate package for 2030 in mid-January, which will be vital in establishing ambition on the international stage. Its 2020 targets have been accused to being too easy, with many hoping that the next set of commitments will push for an even more progressive stance.

A statement from the CCC noted that the fourth carbon budget remains at the low end of the range of ambition currently being discussed for the package of climate measures that will carry the EU through to 2030. The budget may need to be tightened, it says, if the UK’s own recommendations for EU ambition are met.

In May, UK energy Secretary Ed Davey called for an EU-wide binding target of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 in the context of an ambitious global deal, or a 40% target without.

“This 2030 target is ambitious, but it is achievable and necessary if we are to limit climate change to manageable proportions,” said Davey.


A report by Green Alliance released last week referenced the role of the UK in shaping the direction of EU policy. It said: “The UK has had considerable influence over the EU’s position and maximises its leverage by operating within the EU bloc.”

It highlighted that the UK’s carbon budget had been instrumental in establishing the UK’s position as a leader on climate change.

In turn, the EU plays a crucial role in pushing for more ambitious stance at international UN talks, where the negotiations taking place in Warsaw next week will be an important forerunner to the globally binding deal that member states have agreed to sign up to in 2015.

According to Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC, the UK should continue to fill this leadership role.

He said: “It is entirely right that the Government should continue to push for agreement on ambitious EU and international emissions reductions and focus on developing policies to support low-carbon investment while ensuring affordability and competitiveness.”

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