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Committee on Climate Change assessment of science and international circumstances reinforces existing fourth carbon budget – 07 November 2013

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) today advised that there has been no significant change in the climate science, international and EU circumstances on which the fourth carbon budget (2023 – 2027) was set in 2011. Therefore, in these regards, there is no legal or economic basis to change the budget at this time.

The CCC’s advice follows an agreement by the Government when setting the budget that this should be reviewed in 2014. Only if there has been significant change in the circumstances on which the budget was set, demonstrated by evidence and analysis, can the budget be changed.

In making its recommendations, the CCC considered the implications of the recent IPCC review for UK approaches to reducing emissions. It concludes that temperature increase of 4 degrees is likely if global emissions continue to rise; that significant cuts in global emissions are necessary to limit this risk; that emissions cuts to meet the fourth carbon budget are a minimum UK contribution to required global action.

The report also considers international action and concludes that the UK is not acting alone: many other countries around the world have made ambitious commitments and are putting in place approaches to reduce emissions. Global emissions cuts to achieve climate objectives remain feasible if challenging. The UK has an important role in securing an ambitious international agreement

At the European level, the fourth carbon budget is at the low end of the range of ambition currently being discussed for EU emissions reductions through the 2020s; if the UK Government is successful in achieving its objectives for EU ambition, a tightening of the budget would be needed.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC said:

“The fourth carbon budget remains sensible in light of the latest evidence on climate science and international action. In these respects there is no legal or economic case to reduce ambition in the budget. The UK’s position in the EU negotiations is fully congruent with the budget although a success at the level hoped for by the UK Government might well require its tightening.

The latest IPCC report reiterates how vital continued action is to address climate change and the international response shows that the UK is in a global race to attract low-carbon investment and jobs. It will therefore be important for Government to make a timely announcement on the fourth carbon budget. A protracted process would exacerbate current uncertainties about its commitment to supporting investment in low-carbon technologies. 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”.

The review of climate science confirmed that:

  • There is increased confidence that long-term warming is as a result of human activity
  • Recent assessments of the likely temperature change in response to raised greenhouse gas concentrations (“climate sensitivity”) confirm assessments in previous years.
  • Temperature change of 4 degrees is likely if emissions continue to increase
  • Global emissions need to peak around 2020 with rapid cuts to reduce emissions by half in 2050. Delaying peaking of global emissions to 2030 will raise the costs and risks of achieving the climate objective underpinning the Climate Change Act and probably make it unattainable.

On progress towards reducing global emissions the report finds that:

  • Progress towards a global deal has been slow but broadly as expected when the fourth carbon budget was set. The UN has formally adopted an objective to limit warming to 2°C and is working towards an agreement aimed at peaking and reducing emissions consistent with this goal. The aim is to resolve that process in Paris at the end of 2015.
  • The UK is not acting alone. There are many countries which have made ambitious commitments to reduce emissions, and are delivering against these commitments. There is now widespread coverage by low-carbon policies of the major emissions sources around the world. This provides a good basis for agreeing and implementing an ambitious global deal.
  • The climate objective and the global emissions reduction required to achieve it remain feasible, but very challenging. These remain an appropriate basis for policy, both because of the very significant risks associated with dangerous climate change and the costs of delayed-action pathways. The fourth carbon budget is important to the global process because of the key role of the UK in securing an effective global agreement.

On EU circumstances the report finds that:

  • The fourth budget is consistent with the cost-effective emissions reduction pathways identified by the European Commission.
  • It is at the low end of the range of ambition for EU emissions cuts through the 2020s currently being discussed (i.e. ambition in the budget is relatively low, emissions are relatively high).
  • If the more ambitious EU targets that the UK has proposed are agreed, then the budget would need to be tightened.
  • There is no justification legal or economic to loosen the budget now and then tighten it later once agreement has been reached. Such an approach would be bad for business confidence and undermine the UK’s credibility in current negotiations over EU ambition.

The CCC will provide its final advice on the fourth carbon budget in December 2013. This will include assessments of technology costs and feasible deployment rates, possible impacts of shale gas, energy affordability, competitiveness and security of supply.