Low carbon credit where low carbon credit is due

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By Rob Elsworth, Climate and Energy Analyst, CAFOD

The Government has announced that the UK’s fourth carbon budget will not be revised. This means that the legally binding target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for the period 2023-2027 against 1990 levels will be required.

The Government has made the right decision, for which they should be commended.

From a CAFOD perspective, the Government’s decision sends a hugely important message of encouragement to governments and civil society around the world about shifting towards more sustainable development. CAFOD’s work with partners on moving towards a more sustainable future is strengthened tremendously by the UK’s own commitment to a low carbon future.

The UK’s 2008 Climate Act sets out “carbon budgets”. These limit the amount of pollution the UK is allowed to emit up to 2050 and give a road map for decarbonisation. In the process, they give a clear signal to business as to what’s required of them as well as to investors, who know that cleaner and more efficient technologies will find a market. In short, it sets the UK clearly on the path to developing a cleaner, more innovative and competitive economy.

The Committee on Climate Change, officially tasked to advise the Government on this issue, reported back in December 2013 that “there is no legal or economic basis for a change in the budget at this time.”[1] Nevertheless no decision was forthcoming, suggesting it was not all peace and love at the heart of the Coalition. Different Ministers are under different pressures and, with coalition parties looking to reassert their own identities 10 months before the next election, politics threatened to overcome sound scientific, legal and economic rationales. Fortunately common sense prevailed.

The UK has a positive story to tell on climate change to other countries – and the Climate Act is the jewel in the crown. The fact that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recently signed a joint statement with the UK on climate change shows the UK’s leadership position[3]. Weakening the carbon budget would have been a real error, damaging  international climate negotiations,  the UK’s international credibility on the issue, as well as UK business who stress the need not to “lose momentum”[2] on the low carbon transition.

What the UK does on reducing pollution at home is also crucial at a time when EU Member States are struggling to agree on the EU’s collective 2030 Energy and Climate Framework – the  policies that aim to make the European Union’s economy and energy system more competitive, secure and sustainable. Much of the debate centres around what targets should be agreed – with different combinations of emissions reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency preferred by different countries. The UK has been vocal about the need for ambitious emissions reduction targets of up to 50% – keen for a technology neutral approach – but reluctant to take on renewables and energy efficient targets.

At the other end of the spectrum Poland has been vocal about not wanting a 2030 Climate and Energy Framework at all, fearing it would damage the country’s already dwindling domestic coal industry.

A range of options exists in-between these positions. The crisis in Ukraine has sharpened the need for the EU to redouble its efforts to push energy efficiency measures in the hope of weaning the region off Russian gas. Changing the UK’s domestic targets would have shattered its own negotiating position, and likely given ground to the more reluctant voices around the negotiating table.

The importance of a robust EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework cannot be understated. A decision is expected at the EU Council meeting in October and this will form the basis of the EU’s ask at the UN level. With all eyes on the prize of a global agreement on climate change coming out of the UN meeting at Paris in 2015, the EU needs the strongest position possible to drive serious effort from other countries, namely the USA and China.

While there remains much work to be done  to ensure a low carbon transition is indeed successful in the UK, the decision to retain the fourth carbon budget  is one that makes that prospect more of a reality  – and the Government should be given credit for this.

[1] http://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/1785a-CCC_AdviceRep_Singles_1.pdf
[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-china-joint-climate-change-statement
[2] http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/1552876/energy_climatechangerpt_web.pdf

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