UK should commit to a 60% cut in emissions by 2030 as a contribution to global efforts to combat climate change – 7 December 2010

The Committee on Climate Change today recommended a carbon budget for 2023-27 and a target for emissions reductions in 2030 – halfway between now and 2050. The recommended target for 2030, to cut emissions by 60% relative to 1990 levels (46% relative to current levels), would then require a 62% emissions reduction from 2030 to meet the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act.

It implies a back-ended path for emissions reductions over the next four decades, and therefore sets a minimum level of ambition in 2030 compatible with the 2050 target. The Committee estimates that the recommended target can be achieved at a cost of less than 1% of GDP (i.e. a fraction of one year’s growth over the next two decades).

In order to achieve deep emissions cuts required in the period to 2030, the Committee recommended that the carbon budgets currently in legislation (which cover the period up to 2022) should be tightened to reflect a 37% reduction in GHGs in 2020 relative to 1990 (from the currently legislated 34% cut), which could be raised further again to 42% once the EU has moved to more ambitious climate change targets. New carbon budgets should be legislated by summer 2011, as required under the Climate Change Act.

In making its recommendations, the Committee set out a detailed assessment of opportunities for reducing emissions in the UK over the next two decades. This assessment shows how the 2030 target could be achieved through a combination of the following measures:

Radical decarbonisation and reform of the electricity market –  Investment in low carbon technologies including wind, nuclear and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) applied to coal and gas could reduce the carbon intensity of the electricity we use by 90% by 2030 (i.e. from 500 gCO2/kWh to 50 gCO2 /kWh). Rolling out smart meters to homes and non-residential buildings would provide opportunities for people to better control their consumption, and reduce their energy bills. Achieving these very challenging levels of investment, will require the equivalent of 25 new large scale low-carbon generating power stations to be added to the grid (up to 40 GW), and this will require radical reform of the electricity market. The Committee recommends that new market arrangements are introduced whereby the Government tenders long-term contracts for low carbon capacity; proposals from the Government on new market reforms are due before the end of the year.

Widespread development and deployment of low-carbon vehicles – a 45% reduction in emissions from surface transport is achievable by 2030, mainly through the widespread development and deployment of electric cars and vans. The Committee suggests that a 60% share of electric vehicles in new vehicles by 2030 would be compatible with the recommended target, by which time there could be 11 million electric cars and 1.5 million vans on the road. Hydrogen could be used to power Heavy Goods Vehicles and half of all buses. More could also be done by Government to reduce car trips, by 5% by 2030, (through initiatives including encouragement of car pooling and use of public transport).

National transformation of homes and non-residential buildings – could see many more homes better insulated, with half of all homes that have leaky solid walls insulated by 2030 (3.5 million), and almost 30% of all households using heat pumps (a low-carbon technology) to heat their homes rather than conventional heaters. In addition, there may be a role for district heating systems using waste heat from low carbon power stations.

Halving of emissions from industry by 2030 – through the application of more energy efficient processes and CCS technology to industrial processes and the use of biomass and biogas to meet 25% of all industrial heat demand by 2030.

Widespread use of more carbon-efficient practices on farms – the Committee identifies scope for cutting agriculture emissions by up to 20% over the next two decades through a range of more efficient farming practice both as regards livestock and the application of fertiliser to soils. Unlocking this potential may require stronger policies than the current voluntary approach, and the Government should consider the full range of levers to strengthen incentives for farmers.

In making its recommendations, the Committee considered the latest evidence on climate science, including a review commissioned of 500 recently published peer-reviewed papers. This led them to the conclusion that the science remains robust and the case for action is stronger than ever.

The review of climate science confirmed that:

  • Global climate change is already happening, as is evident through a comprehensive range of measurements.
  • It is highly likely that this is largely a result of human activity (the greenhouse effect is very well understood and accepted; the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, resulting from human activity, is higher than at any time during the last million years).
  • Without action, there is a high risk of warming well beyond 2 degrees which will have significant consequences for human welfare and ecological systems over the course of this century and beyond. e.g. (species extinction, widespread flooding, drought)
  • Recent controversies concerning the University of East Anglia and IPCC have raised some concerns about transparency and process that are now being addressed, but did not raise any concerns about the fundamental science.

In light of this, the report says that the climate objective to limit estimates of global mean temperature change by 2100 to around 2 degrees, and the associated 80% emissions reduction target for the UK in 2050, continues to be appropriate; the fourth budget and the 2030 target recommended by the Committee are designed to be compatible with the 2050 target.

The Committee also reassessed the international context and global emissions pathways, concluding that in order to stabilise global temperatures, emissions need to peak by 2020 before starting to fall by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Although it looks unlikely that a binding international agreement will be signed at Cancun, the report analysed the 85 pledges made by countries under the Copenhagen Accord, finding that if these were delivered, they would put the world on the right pathway to achieving a peaking of emissions by 2020. A failure to reach a global deal this year should not stop countries from continuing to reduce emissions.

In addition to electricity market reform and consideration of new policies for agriculture, the Committee made the following recommendations to support delivery of the fourth carbon budget:

  1. New policies to drive the step change in emissions required – in particular a national programme to improve energy efficiency, a roll-out of smart meters, support for public transport, more widespread use of carbon-efficient practices on farms.
  2. Funding and policies to support the development of new technologies and markets required to 2050, in particular CCS for power generation and industry, electric cars and vans, and electric heat pumps. Comprehensive programmes should be developed in each of these areas as a matter of urgency.
  3. More ambitious EU-wide policies – government should support an EU-wide move to a 30% emission reduction target in 2020 (relative to 1990), and a 55% cut by 2030 in emissions, with tighter regulations put in place for new
  4. cars and vans and reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy so that it links subsidies and incentives to climate change mitigation.

Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Adair Turner said:

“We are recommending a stretching but realistic fourth carbon budget and 2030 target, achievable at a cost of less than 1% of GDP. Any less ambition would not be compatible with the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act. We therefore urge the Government to legislate the budget that we have recommended, and to develop the policies required to cut emissions over the next two decades.”

“The case for action on climate change is as strong as ever: climate science remains robust and suggests that there are very significant risks if we do not cut emissions. And countries acting now will gain economic benefits in an increasingly carbon constrained world.”

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