The government
today announced
it will leave the UK’s
emission reduction targets as they are.

The UK has a
legally binding obligation
to reduce emissions by
80 per cent by 2050 on 1990 levels. To ensure progress is made at a
steady pace, four interim targets were included in the law – known
as carbon budgets.

It has been reported for some time that
chancellor George Osborne wanted to
weaken these targets
, opening the door for
increased use of gas power. The government’s advisory body, the
Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has always maintained there
no grounds
for such a move.

The UK met its first carbon budget and is
currently making progress towards the second. The chancellor was
reportedly looking to change the
fourth carbon budget
, covering the period
from 2023 to 2027, which is roughly when new gas capacity might be
expected to come online.

The budget requires emissions to be reduced by 50 per cent on
1990 levels in 2025. Having gone through a
review of the basis of the fourth carbon budget
, the government
today decided to keep that target.

No change of circumstance

The Climate Change Act says the government can
legally change the carbon budget if there were
“significant changes”
in circumstances since the
target was set. Changes in the scientific evidence on climate
change, economic circumstances, and the rate at which other
countries are decarbonising can all be considered.

Energy and climate change secretary
Ed Davey says
the fourth carbon budget
review made it “clear that the evidence does not support amending
the budget”, with the government’s decision being “consistent with
the advice of the Committee on Climate Change”.

In November, the CCC released a
assessing developments in two areas:
the evidence base underlying the science of climate change, and the
level of action other countries are taking to reduce

On climate science, the committee concluded that
there was no change. The latest scientific evidence – synthesised
in the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent
– confirms that without action to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, there is a very high risk that the world
is going to be exposed to dangerous climate change. So the world
still needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next few

The report also concluded that there hasn’t been
any significant change in other country’s plans to reduce emissions
since 2011.

The government
that the UK’s plans for reducing
emissions from the power sector in particular should match the
likely effect the EU emissions trading scheme would have on the
sector. In other words, we should do the same as the rest of

The CCC argues the UK’s emissions reductions
should be matched
to the European
Commission’s recommended target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2030.
The CCC says the fourth carbon budget means the UK will be matching
this level of ambition –
more or less

Must do more

Deciding to leave the fourth carbon budget alone
is a politically significant step. But now the government has to
implement policies to ensure it hits the target.

CCC’s latest progress report
shows that could be
tricky. The first budget was met largely because of the 2008
economic crisis slashing industrial output and ripping a hole in
consumers’ pockets, the CCC says. Lower output and lower demand
reduced the need to burn fossil fuels in power stations, cars and

Without the impact of the crash and a
particularly cold winter in 2010, emissions would have fallen by
around 1 per cent per year between 2007 and 2012. To meet the
fourth carbon budget in 2027 that rate will need to

Emissions in 2025 need to be cut by 31 per cent
(175 million tonnes) compared to the 564 million tonnes emitted in
2013, the CCC says. But current policies will only take emissions
down by a maximum of 23 per cent, it says.

Davey says today’s decision “demonstrates the UK’s
commitment to its climate change target”. Now, the government must
focus on ensuring it delivers.