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Good progress in reducing UK emissions will not continue without urgent action to strengthen policies

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) today publishes its 2016 Annual Progress Report to Parliament detailing the UK’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting carbon budgets.

The report shows that UK emissions have fallen by an average of 4.5% per year in the last three years and are 38% below 1990 levels. This reduction in emissions has come almost exclusively from one sector: electricity generation, where UK Government policies have driven an increase in renewable generation and a reduction in coal use. While this is welcome, progress elsewhere has stalled: rates of installing insulation in homes have fallen by 60-90%, take-up of low-carbon heating remains below 2.5% of demand and, in the past year, emissions have been rising in the transport and agriculture sectors.

Policies are not in place to broaden the sources of emission reduction. The CCC’s Progress Report identifies a gap of about 100 MtCO2e between current plans and the action required by the recommended fifth carbon budget (covering emissions in the years 2028-2032). That gap is half of the required reduction from 2015, and could be larger if existing plans fail to fully deliver.

The Government has recognised this policy shortfall and has committed to produce an ‘emissions reduction plan’ later in 2016. The Progress Report sets out the following criteria for that plan:

  • New policy approaches are needed to decarbonise heating and improve energy efficiency, focusing on lower cost areas (e.g. new buildings) and overcoming behavioural barriers.
  • Policies should be extended through the 2020s to improve the efficiency of new vehicles and increase the uptake of low-emission vehicles.
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS). A new approach to the development of CCS can advance this crucial technology at lower cost than previous plans, and is urgently required. The new approach should provide separate support for capture plants and for transport and storage infrastructure.
  • Mature low-carbon generation. The cheapest forms of low-carbon electricity generation (e.g. onshore wind and solar in locally-acceptable locations) should be provided with a route to market (e.g. new auctions for low-carbon contracts). Previous auctions were successful and excluding these technologies increases costs for UK consumers.

Last week’s referendum vote to leave the EU does not alter the need to reduce UK emissions. The carbon budgets and the 2050 target to reduce emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels are set in UK legislation – the Climate Change Act (2008) – and are designed to represent the lowest-cost path for the UK to contribute to global efforts to tackle climate change. The Act also includes a legal requirement that the Government set out proposals and policies to meet the targets. These policies will need to reflect the UK’s changing relationship with the EU.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “This is an important moment for UK climate change policy. We have made strong progress in reducing emissions in some parts of the economy and this should be continued. New commitments will be required to meet our targets and realise the opportunities from emissions reduction. The UK has, for a long time, played a leading role internationally in tackling climate change. The Paris Agreement last December saw countries of the world coming together to agree increased ambition. Leaving the EU will require the reassessment of some existing and proposed policies but does not change the need for the UK to play its role in reducing emissions.”