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Domestic implications of the “Paris Agreement” to combat climate change

A statement from the Committee on Climate Change on the domestic implications of the Paris Agreement:

The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act was passed, with broad cross-party support, as part of the UK’s contribution to the global effort to address dangerous levels of future climate change. The Committee on Climate Change, set up under the Act to provide independent advice to Government and Parliament, welcomes the very significant agreement that was reached in Paris last week. The agreement helps to clarify the level of global ambition and the processes that will help to achieve that ambition.

On a much larger scale, the agreement of 195 countries mirrors the cross-party consensus to the UK’s approach to tackling climate change. The Committee on Climate Change knows that an important part of preserving that consensus is its own impartial, rigorous analysis and advice. We said, before the start of the Paris negotiations, that we would take time to assess the implications of any agreement carefully. We would then write to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change early in 2016 about whether the final agreement had any immediate implications for the UK. The most immediate issue is our advice on the fifth carbon budget that was set out on 26th November 2015. It recommends a 57% reduction in UK emissions (relative to 1990) in the period 2028 to 2032. It remains our plan to write to the Secretary of State early in 2016 to set out whether that advice is affected by the Paris Agreement.

However, we have received many questions and enquiries from the press and others for a more immediate reaction. Based on an initial review of the agreement it is possible to say the following:

  • Fifth carbon budget advice: The fifth carbon budget advice is based on the least-cost path (balancing a range of factors including affordability, security of supply and competitiveness) to reduce UK emissions by at least 80% by 2050. The 2050 target (which is set by the Climate Change Act) was based on a global ambition of keeping central estimates of temperature rise close to 2°C. The Paris Agreement clarifies that the 2°C ambition is an upper bound: “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°Cand pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.” The 5th Carbon Budget represents the most cost effective route to our statutory target for 2050. Even without Paris there is no elbow room in that budget that would allow us to lessen our ambition. The Paris outcome is likely to reinforce that situation and we shall have to decide whether to recommend that further steps will need to be taken and at what point in the future.
  • Increasing effort: The UK’s approach under the Climate Change Act and the advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change, has been one of steady progress to meet the 2050 target. It has explicitly sought to avoid unexpected needs to ratchet up effort quickly, with the associated costs of doing so. The global agreement makes clear that current global commitments fall short of what is needed to meet the ambition: 55 Gt/year of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to a requirement of about 40 Gt/year. Some nations will have to ratchet up effort – potentially over relatively short periods of time. That might include the EU as a whole; the UK Government has supported a position that the EU should increase effort from 40% to 50% emission reduction by 2030 if other countries also ratcheted up their ambition. The EU has previously stated that it would increase its 2020 target from 20% to 30% if a global deal is reached. The advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change is explicitly intended to minimise the need for large changes in the emissions’ trajectory of UK.
  • Mitigation: The scale of the global ambition further emphasises the need for the UK to stay on track with its current commitments. The Government has said it will set out how it will meet the fourth carbon budget (covering the years 2023 to 2027) and the fifth carbon budget (as legislated by June 2016) before the end of 2016. The Committee will formally and transparently assess progress against the stated ambition in its annual progress reports which are presented to Parliament in June of every year.
  • Adaptation: It is clear that historic and ongoing emissions mean that some climate change is now inevitable. The latest evidence suggests that global average temperatures for 2015 will be about 1°C above pre-industrial levels. The agreement places considerable emphasis on adaptation. While the agreement focuses on developing countries, the impacts of climate change will be felt around the world. The Adaptation Sub-Committee will publish the evidence base for the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment in July 2016 setting out the risks to the UK from climate change. It will continue to report to Parliament biennially on whether the UK National Adaptation Programme suitably addresses those risks.