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Apply the lessons of the past decade, or risk a poor deal for the public in the next

Ten years after the Climate Change Act came into force, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the Government must learn the lessons of the last decade if it is to meet legally-binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s and 2030s. Unless action is taken now, the public faces an unnecessarily expensive deal to make the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Scientific evidence of a changing climate continues to mount. Recent observations have catalogued evolving changes to the climate in the UK and around the world, highlighting the urgent need for further measures to reduce harmful emissions.

Overall, UK emissions are down 43% compared to the 1990 baseline while the economy has grown significantly over the same period.

Since 2008, the UK has seen a rapid reduction in emissions in the electricity sector, but this achievement masks a marked failure to decarbonise other sectors, including transport, agriculture and buildings. In the last five years, emissions reductions in these areas have stalled. As a result, the UK is not on course to meet the fourth (2023-2027) or fifth (2028-2032) carbon budgets. Nor will it be on course unless risks to the delivery of existing policies are reduced significantly and until Government brings forward effective new policies to deliver commitments beyond the achievements in electricity generation and waste.

The next year is crucial. In January, the Committee commended the ambition of the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, but found few new detailed policies to reduce UK emissions into the next decade and beyond. Five months on, policy details are still largely absent, and we haven’t yet had the Department for Transport’s ‘Road to Zero’ strategy, delayed from its planned publication in March. It is in this context that the Committee’s new report ‘Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliamentsets out four key messages to Government to put emissions reductions on track, based on the lessons of the last decade:

  1. Support the simple, low-cost options. Low-cost, low-risk options to reduce emissions are not being supported by Government. This penalises the consumer. There is no route to market for cheap onshore wind; withdrawal of incentives has cut home insulation installations to 5% of their 2012 level; woodland creation falls short of stated Government ambition in every part of the UK. Worries over the short-term cost of these options are misguided. The whole economy cost of meeting the legally-binding targets will be higher without cost-effective measures in every sector.
  2. Commit to effective regulation and strict enforcement. Tougher long-term standards, for construction and vehicle emissions for example, can cut emissions, while driving consumer demand, innovation, and cost reduction. Providing long line of sight to new regulation also reduces the overall economic costs of compliance. Regulations must also be enforced to be effective: the consumer is cheated when their car’s fuel consumption and real emissions exceed the quoted test-cycle numbers; or when higher energy bills are locked-in for generations when stated building standards are not enforced.
  3. End the chopping and changing of policy. A number of important programmes have been cancelled in recent years at short notice, including Zero Carbon Homes and the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Commercialisation Programme. This has led to uncertainty, which carries a real cost. A consistent policy environment keeps investor risk low, reduces the cost of capital, provides clear signals to the consumer and gives businesses the confidence to build UK-based supply chains.
  4. Act now to keep long-term options open. An 80% reduction in emissions has always implied the need for new national infrastructure – to transport and store CO2 for example, or to provide decarbonised heat. The deeper emissions reductions implied by the Paris Agreement make these developments even more important. We cannot yet define the 2050 systems for carbon capture, zero-carbon transport, hydrogen or electrification of heat, but the Government must now demonstrate it is serious about their future deployment. Key technologies should be pulled through to bring down costs and support the growth of the low-carbon goods and services sector.

The Committee’s report presents a list of critical commitments it expects the Government to deliver by the time the CCC issues its next progress report to Parliament in June 2019. A number of actions are required by the end of 2018 including concrete policies to secure improvements in residential energy efficiency, a deployment pathway for CCS and new policy to strengthen the incentives for people to buy electric vehicles – amongst others.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said: “Although the UK seeks to lead the world in tackling climate change, the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s. We welcomed the Government’s commitment in the Clean Growth Strategy to put green growth at the heart of its economic policy. We recognise that over the last ten years, the Government has shown it has the know-how and commitment to drive down UK emissions in the electricity sector by acting early and consistently to avoid costly interventions later. We now have to ensure that the Government learns from this experience and presents a programme to tackle emissions right across the economy, including in buildings, transport and agriculture. This action is now urgent in order to meet the UK’s legally-binding climate change targets, and to prepare to fulfil the obligations of the Paris Agreement.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Committee’s new report ‘Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliament’ was published online at 00.01 on Thursday 28 June 2018.
  2. The Clean Growth Strategy was published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 12 October 2017. The Strategy sets out the Government’s proposals and policies towards meeting the fourth (2023-27) and the fifth (2028-2032) carbon budgets. The Committee’s independent assessment of the Clean Growth Strategy was published in January 2018.
  3. It is important that the UK Government works with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure delivery against the carbon budgets – both in areas that are devolved (e.g. waste, forestry), and in those that are reserved to UK Government but have important roles for local action (e.g. home energy efficiency, Contracts-for-Difference for low-carbon electricity generation).