Yesterday the Committee on Climate Change published its recommendations for how the government should implement the requirements of the Climate Change Bill to introduce legally binding carbon budgets for the next 15 years.
I have to declare an interest in this subject – when I worked at Friends of the Earth we wrote the first [report]( “”) calling for carbon budgets to be introduced, as long ago as March 2005. Then while working in Government I was lucky enough to be involved in writing the concept into the Draft Climate Change Bill which has just been finalised and become an Act.
The UK needs its own legislation because there is insufficient clarity at an international level about what it is each country is required to do to combat climate change – the Kyoto Protocol currently runs out in 2012 and the EU’s policy package has still to be agreed and is anyway contingent on a new global deal being reached. So in this policy vacuum the UK has been merrily drifting along – doing some bits and pieces to try to incentivise and disincentivise various things – but failing overall to deliver a sustained reduction in emissions across the economy as a whole. The Climate Change Act was designed to create both the impetus and the tools for the UK to act, decisively and unilaterally, in pursuit of a low carbon economy.
Yesterday’s publication was therefore both encouraging and disappointing. On the plus side the report presents persuasive evidence that acting will not be painful – costing less than 1% of GDP in 2020 and delivering the Treasury a net benefit of in the region of £4.5bn per annum. But on the down side there is almost nothing new in the targets they recommend – just a rebranded version of the EU’s proposals that we signed up to way back in Spring 2007. The condition that targets will only become meaningful once a global deal is reached is still there and the upper end of ambition (the ‘Intended budget’) is no greater than we would be required by Europe to do anyway. There is also still uncertainty about the extent to which the UK has to act itself or can simply piggy back on the back of cheaper emissions reductions achieved in other countries – in the rest of the EU or beyond. And, perhaps most worrying of all, the science on which even the more ambitious budgets are based assumes that we will not be able to hold global average temperature increases to below 2 degrees C.
So now it is up to the Government to respond. They have given themselves six months, which is not quite long enough to wait and see what happens in Copenhagen next December, so they are faced with an interesting choice. Commit now to a strong and clear legal framework that moves the UK forward, irrespective of what the rest of the world is doing and thereby provide investors in the UK with an unequivocal signal that they had better be investing in low carbon; or continue to wait until we are told what to do by the UN and Europe. The later course of action seems to be utterly meaningless – what is the point of the last two years of negotiating the Climate Change Act if all it achieves is something that would have happened anyway? Ed Miliband now has the perfect opportunity to show genuine leadership on this issue – if he opts for the first course of action – legislating now for a 42% cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 – then we can all get on with working out precisely how to deliver it. And not a moment too soon.