The UK’s transition to a resilient, low-carbon economy is in danger of being derailed by a lack of Government action on climate change, the Committee on Climate Change says today. That inaction is making it difficult for businesses and the UK public to grasp the opportunities of the transition.
Good progress has been made to date but continued progress depends on significant new measures. Greenhouse gas emissions are about 42% lower than in 1990, around half way to the 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by at least 80% on 1990 levels.
As emissions have fallen since 1990, GDP has increased by more than 65% over the same period and total household energy bills have fallen compared to 2008 when the Climate Change Act was passed.
Action has also been taken to address the risks from climate change. There have been important steps to fund and improve river and coastal flood defences and to improve the resilience of energy, transport and water infrastructure to severe weather.
However, progress is stalling. Since 2012, emissions reductions have been largely confined to the power sector, whilst emissions from transport and the UK’s building stock are rising. The overall state of our natural environment is worsening, reducing its resilience to climate change. Recent storms show that national infrastructure remains vulnerable to severe weather. Ten years after the 2007 floods important lessons remain, and the risks of surface water flooding in our towns and cities have still not been tackled.
Effective new strategies and new policies are urgently needed to ensure emissions continue to fall in line with the commitments agreed by Parliament (by at least 50% by 2025 and 57% by 2030 on 1990 levels), and that key risks to homes, businesses, and the natural environment are addressed.
The findings are part of the Committee’s statutory 2017 Report to Parliament. The report sets out the CCC’s latest independent assessment of UK action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
In particular, the CCC recommends that the Government:
- Urgently delivers a plan to continue reducing emissions across the economy. It is no longer justified or wise to delay the publication of the emissions reduction plan required by law. The plan must address the gap between Parliament’s agreed targets and the impact of existing policies, including: plans to bring forward additional low-carbon electricity generation through the 2020s; accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles; provide a path for the uptake of low-carbon heat and set out a strategy for deploying carbon capture and storage technology.
- Strengthens the UK’s National Adaptation Programme (NAP) in the first half of 2018. The new programme, which drives action to prepare for climate change impacts, must address priority areas: flood risks to homes and businesses, risks to the natural environment, including to soils and biodiversity, and risks to human health and wellbeing from higher temperatures. The next NAP must be more ambitious, with policies that make a measurable difference and with clearer mechanisms to track progress.
International events will also influence UK actions. New climate change plans need to consider the risks and opportunities that may arise from the decision to leave the EU. Despite the announcement from the Federal Government of the United States that it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, subsequent statements from the UK, China, India, the EU, several US states and cities and many others make it clear that the global transition to a low-carbon economy will continue.
CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said: “The impact of climate change on our lives and those of our children is clearer than ever. The UK has shown global leadership on climate change, but progress will stall at home without urgent further action. New plans, for a new Parliament, are needed as a matter of urgency to meet our legal commitments, grasp the opportunities offered by the global low-carbon transition, and protect people, businesses and the environment from the impacts of a changing climate.”
Notes to Editors
- The Committee’s three-volume report ‘2017 Report to Parliament’ was published online at 00.01 on 29 June 2017. The three volumes consist of a summary volume, a volume on progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and a volume on progress in adapting to the risks from climate change.
- Following the legislation of a carbon budget by Parliament, The Climate Change Act 2008 places a duty on the Secretary of State to “prepare such proposals and policies as the Secretary of State considers will enable the carbon budgets that have been set under this Act to be met.” It also states that: “As soon as is reasonably practicable after making an order setting the carbon budget for a budgetary period, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report setting out proposals and policies for meeting the carbon budgets for the current and future budgetary periods up to and including that period.” The fifth carbon budget was legislated by Parliament in July 2016. The Government committed to publishing an ‘emissions reduction plan’ by December 2016 and then revised the timetable to early 2017. As of June 2017, that plan has not been published. In addition, many of the current policies responsible for delivering long-term climate action come to an end around 2020. This includes the Levy Control Framework that supports low-carbon power, fuel efficiency standards for new cars, the renewable heat incentive to support the uptake of low-carbon heating, capital funding for flood defences and key policies to safeguard biodiversity.
- The Climate Change Act places a duty on the Committee to consider the potential impact of carbon reduction measures on household and industrial energy bills and UK competitiveness, amongst other impacts. The Committee’s most recent report on UK energy prices and bills was published in March 2017. It found that: in 2016, low carbon-policies made up around 9% of an annual ‘dual fuel’ household energy bill of around £1,160. Improvements in energy efficiency have saved the typical UK household around £290 per year since 2008, more than offsetting the £105 cost of supporting the shift towards a UK-based low-carbon electricity supply and improving energy efficiency in homes. Some energy-intensive manufacturing sectors face higher costs from climate policies but those deemed most ‘at risk’ are largely compensated for those costs and there is a range of opportunities for UK business arising from the transition to a low-carbon economy.
- The Climate Change Act 2008 places a duty on the Government to set out measures to adapt to the risks from climate change.” The next National Adaptation Programme is due to be laid before Parliament in 2018.
- The Government published its second UK Climate Change Risk Assessment in January 2017. This assessment highlighted six key risks facing the UK from climate change impacts. The Adaptation Sub-Committee’s evidence report was published in July 2016.
- The decision to leave the EU does not change the need to cut emissions, the level of the carbon budgets or the need to address the risks from climate change, which are set in UK law. It will create both opportunities and risks to ongoing efforts to develop a growing, lower-carbon, more climate resilient economy. EU policies that cover fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and other product standards, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and specific sectoral initiatives (waste and f-gas directives) will need to be replicated or improved. Programmes to improve the resilience of the natural environment to climate change have also been driven by EU legislation. These measures will need to be replaced with UK legislation that is at least as effective and as strictly enforced. The Committee’s briefing note Meeting carbon budgets: The implications of Brexit for UK climate policy, was published in October 2016.
- The devolved administrations, local governments, cities and elected mayors have an increasingly important role to play in meeting the UK’s climate change objectives.
- Scotland is in the process of revising its Climate Change Act and developing a new suite of policies. Scotland continues to have considerable success at reducing emissions from the power sector to minimal levels. However, progress to reduce emissions and increase resilience in buildings, transport and the natural environment will need further action by the Scottish Government.
- Wales has been putting in place its framework for climate change action over the past few years. By the summer of 2018 the Welsh Government intends to have carbon budgets in place. While agreement on carbon budgets is essential, it will also be necessary to consider how to make progress more quickly, given that Wales is likely to miss its previous 2020 target to reduce emissions by 40% against 1990 levels. The second UK Climate Change Risk Assessment evidence report provides an overview of risks specific to Wales, but to date there has not been an independent assessment of its resilience to climate risks.
- Northern Ireland must also make its contribution to achieving the UK’s overall targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee will have a more detailed discussion with the Northern Ireland Executive later this year. The second UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report provides an overview of risks specific to Northern Ireland but to date there has not been an independent assessment of its resilience to climate risks.