UK renews commitment to climate change targets

Energy secretary Ed Davey has seen off calls to weaken pollution controls, reaffirming the UK’s green ambitions

The Treasury ordered a review of the carbon budget over concerns it could make UK industry uncompetitive

The Treasury ordered a review of the carbon budget over concerns it could make UK industry uncompetitive

By Megan Darby

The UK will not water down its carbon-cutting commitments for the 2020s, the government confirmed on Tuesday.

The Treasury had ordered a review of the fourth carbon budget, which sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions between 2023 and 2027, amid concerns it could harm UK businesses.

In a move hailed as a sign of the government’s commitment to fighting climate change, energy secretary Ed Davey said the UK would stick to its original budget.

That follows the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which had warned that any weakening of ambition would undermine the UK’s influence in UN climate negotiations.

Davey said in a statement: “It is clear the evidence does not support amending the budget.”

The decision “reflects the views of the vast majority of businesses, investors and environmental groups”, he added.

The core argument for loosening the emissions limit was that UK industry could be placed at a competitive disadvantage against European rivals facing less stringent pollution curbs.

Chancellor George Osborne resolved in 2011 to cut carbon emissions “no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe”.

However, Davey said it would be “premature” to revise the budget now, as negotiations are ongoing in Europe over a climate framework to 2030.

An early draft of the framework, published in January, proposed a 40% emissions cut target and a 27% renewable energy target across Europe. A review of energy efficiency policy due out tomorrow is expected to recommend an energy savings target of between 27% and 30%.

Keeping to the original budget of 1,950 MtCO2e shows the UK is committed to meeting its 2050 target of an 80% emissions cut, Davey said.

Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, an independent body set up to advise government on delivering its climate change legislation, welcomed the news.

“Today shows they [government ministers] are committed to fighting climate change,” he said.

“The reason the fourth carbon budget is so important is that it is the most cost-effective way of meeting our statutory targets for 2050.”

The CCC’s analysis showed fears for UK industry were unfounded, Lord Deben said. “There is no question that we are competitive with our carbon policies and indeed in the long run we would be uncompetitive without them.”

Business leaders, renewables advocates and environmental campaigners also praised the decision.

Leading climate change economist Lord Stern of Brentford said: “This decision will also strengthen the international standing of the UK within Europe, and within the world more generally, as countries work towards an international agreement on climate change in Paris in December 2015.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “The government has made the right decision by committing to continue the UK’s move towards a low-carbon economy well into the 2020s.

“This degree of clarity is essential to ensure we can build a secure and low-carbon energy system in an affordable way. It should also spur significant economic growth across new industries where the UK is currently leading the global race.

Jon Williams, partner in sustainability at consultancy PwC, said: “By sticking to its guns on carbon targets, the coalition government will help bring some much needed investor confidence, and more importantly capital, into funding the transition to a low carbon economy”

“Investors have consistently argued that all they need is long term, transparent and credible policy against which they can make investment decisions, and this is a step in the right direction. It also shows the UK’s continued political leadership in Europe and globally at this crucial time on the road to Paris in 2015.”

Confirmation the UK is staying the course on its carbon policy comes just days after Australia scrapped its carbon tax, to global outrage.

Australia “will just find themselves increasingly isolated”, Lord Deben told RTCC .

“Almost everyone else is moving in the direction of the UK. We are no longer ahead of the pack, we are in the middle.”

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, responsible for scrapping the carbon tax, is not without fans in the UK.

Outgoing UK environment secretary Owen Paterson praised Abbott for standing up to environmentalists – whom he dubbed “the green blob” – in an opinion piece for the Telegraph.

Sacked in a ministerial reshuffle last week, Paterson has agreed to give the annual lecture for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most influential climate sceptic think-tank.

That was taken as further evidence that despite prime minister David Cameron’s pledge to make “the greenest government ever”, in Paterson he had appointed to a cabinet post somebody who rejected the scientific consensus on climate change.

Lord Deben played down the political divisions. “The more we stress the consensus, the more we can keep the consensus together,” he said.

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