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Concrete action needed to meet UK climate commitments following Paris Agreement and Brexit vote

The UK needs to take concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions given its commitment to the Paris Agreement. The vote to leave the EU does not affect the need for action now, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

In a set of new reports, the Committee recommends that the Government vigorously pursues the full package of measures the CCC has identified in order to meet existing UK climate commitments at least cost. The Committee’s analysis shows that successful action now to reduce emissions will also ensure the UK has the flexibility to go further in future.

The Paris Agreement is a significant step forward in global efforts to tackle climate change. It is more ambitious in its aims to limit climate change than the basis of the UK’s existing climate targets. However, it is not yet appropriate to set new UK targets. Existing targets are already stretching and the priority is to take action to meet them. The vote to leave the EU does not change the UK’s legal commitments to reduce its emissions by 57% by 2030 and at least 80% by 2050 (relative to 1990) under the Climate Change Act.

UK emissions are 38% below 1990 levels. This good progress has been achieved alongside GDP growth of over 60% in the same period. However, since the financial crisis, emissions reductions have come almost solely from cleaner electricity generation. Further reductions will be needed in transport, heat, industry, and agriculture to meet the 2030 carbon budget legislated by the current government, to prepare sufficiently for the 2050 target, and ultimately to reach the Paris goal of net zero emissions in the second half of the century.

The CCC today provides new advice on reducing emissions from UK homes and businesses. The Committee concludes:

  • Policies to improve energy efficiency need to achieve more. Heating and hot water for UK buildings make up one fifth of UK emissions but progress improving efficiency has stalled. A new energy efficiency programme is needed for UK homes, including 7 million insulations of walls and lofts. Efficiency measures could cut energy demand for heating by around 15% while reducing energy bills and delivering improvements in comfort, health and wellbeing. The Committee’s new report sets out principles of good policy design needed to improve delivery on efficiency and low-carbon heat.
  •  Effective roll-out of multiple low-carbon heating options is required now.The UK’s attempts to deliver low-carbon heat have so far been unsuccessful. A proper strategy is needed so that the next Parliament can set a clear course for the UK. That must include the immediate and properly targeted roll-out of heat pumps and heat networks between now and the mid-2020s, alongside sizeable trials of hydrogen for heating. If hydrogen is to be a serious low-carbon option, carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be needed, which will only be possible if the Government urgently introduces a new strategy for its development and deployment in the UK.

Meeting the UK’s 2030 target and living up to the Paris Agreement will also require new and renewed policies through the 2020s. Following the vote to leave the EU, the Government will also need to preserve, replicate, or take opportunities to improve on areas of policy previously agreed by the UK at the EU level. As they stand today, existing policies would at best deliver around half of the required emissions reduction to 2030. The Government has committed to closing that gap in its forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan.

Policy will need to deliver improvements in the efficiency of new vehicles and increase the uptake of low-emission (i.e. electric) vehicles. The cheapest forms of low-carbon electricity generation, including onshore wind and solar where these are locally acceptable, should also be provided with a route to market, such as new auctions for low-carbon contracts. Excluding these technologies increases costs for UK consumers.

Lord Deben, CCC Chairman, said: “In its speedy acceptance of the fifth carbon budget and its support for the Paris Agreement, the new government has shown it is committed to tackling climate change. The vote to leave the EU does not alter those commitments – nor does it change the risks that climate change poses. Action is needed now to ensure the UK can deliver its climate obligations at least cost. For too long, Government policy has neglected the UK’s ageing homes and heating systems. It is time to remedy that failure with policies that are simple, stable, and designed to work for the ordinary household.”