Last night, the government agreed to a new long-term target of net zero emissions, making the UK government the first to nationally implement the global netzero goal enshrined in the Paris Agreemeent. On the same night, however, a vote to close an accounting loophole in the UK carbon budgets failed to pass, despite strong support from Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Sandbag has been championing two amendments to the Energy Bill which sought to change the UK Climate Change Act, as part of a broad coalition of NGOs, businesses and cross-party politicians.

  1. Ed Miliband’s amendment calling for a long-term target of net zero emissions in the UK Climate Change Act (New Clause 11), and
  2. A cross-party amendment seeking to close the carbon accounting loopholes in the 5th carbon budget (New Clause 10)

We were successful on the net zero amendment (no division) and unsuccessful on the carbon accounting amendment (Ayes 229 to Noes 275). We hope to revive and win the carbon accounting amendment in the House of Lords where the Bill originated and where a similar amendment has already successfully been voted through (Content 189  to Not Content 166).
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Ed Miliband’s cross-party amendment for a Net Zero emissions target (New Clause 11)

Following the new global ambition in the Paris Agreement, the UK’s aim of an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 (from a 1990 baseline) is no longer adequate. At Paris, the world agreed to head for net zero emissions (dramatically reducing fossil fuel burning, and balancing any remaining emissions with increased forestry, Carbon Capture and Storage, etc.). The government have now agreed to aim for net zero emissions, and will ask the Climate Change Committee to investigate by which date this needs to happen.[1]
Sandbag commissioned the main report used to support Ed Miliband’s netzero amendment (‘The case for a netzero Climate Change Act target’) and we were one of the five NGOs which supported his open letter to the Guardian last Monday.
Damien Morris, Sandbag’s Head of Policy says: “This is another historic first for UK climate policy, following on from its pioneering legislation on the UK Climate Change Act. The government’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions this century is a key symbolic step in translating the Paris agreement into domestic policy – one we hope that other countries will soon follow.”

Closing carbon accounting loopholes in the 5th carbon budget (New Clause 10)

Current carbon accounting rules allow the government to ignore emissions from the UK electricity and manufacturing sectors when determining whether the carbon budgets have been met. This is because emissions reductions from these sectors are assumed to be delivered automatically from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Despite numerous reforms, the ETS has proved an unreliable driver of emissions reductions with carbon prices recently falling below €5 per tonne of CO2. New Clause 10 sought to make the government directly accountable for all UK emissions, rather than delegating half its responsibilities to the EU policy.
Sandbag helped to draft New Clause 10 in partnership with environmental lawyers at Client Earth, and with the help of WWF and RSPB, helped to build a cross-party coalition of support in the House of Commons, led by the Labour front bench and supported by the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Damien Morris, Sandbag’s Head of Policy says: “While we welcome the government’s adoption of a net-zero climate target over the longer term, the government is failing to put the right frameworks in place to drive emissions reductions consistent with the Paris agreement in the short and medium term. It is extremely discouraging that the government is seeking to protect the current accounting loopholes in the UK carbon budgets just as it prepares to adopt its 5th carbon budget in June.”


Statements by key MPs in Monday night’s debateon fixing the loophole in the UK carbon budgets (New Clause 10)

Lisa Nandy MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate, Labour):

“While Ministers talk about their action on climate change, they are simultaneously dismantling the clean energy schemes that could help to address the problem […] Together with other parties from across the House, we tried to close a loophole that will enable Ministers to square this circle through carbon accounting tricks, but that move was also rejected.”

Dr. Alan Whitehead MP (Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate, Labour):

“The EU ETS covers emissions in the electricity sector and heavy industry, and the carbon accounting regulations currently allow the Government to ignore emissions from those sectors when determining whether the carbon budgets have been met. For that reason, the UK’s carbon budgets, as currently designed, fail to provide a framework that offers investor confidence in the UK power sector.”

Callum McCaig MP, SNP Energy and Climate Change spokesperson:

“Our carbon accounting mechanisms need to be brought into line with what is happening and going to happen. The fact that we can get to the stage where upwards of half our emissions do not properly factor into our carbon accounting means that we cannot set about achieving what we must in an open and honest way.”

Caroline Lucas MP, Greens:

“There is no longer a case for using the EU ETS as an excuse for not meeting our own carbon budgets by cutting our own emissions here in the UK. The global carbon budget is rapidly shrinking and there is simply no room for free riders. The UK should be leading the race to a zero-carbon economy, not weaselling out of making a fair contribution.”


[1] Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State for Energy at the Department of Energy and Climate Change speaking in the Commons last night:

“The Government believe we will need to take the step of enshrining the Paris goal of net zero emissions in UK law—the question is not whether, but how we do it, and there is an important set of questions to be answered before we do. The Committee on Climate Change is looking at the implications of the commitments made in Paris and has said it will report in the autumn. We will want to consider carefully its recommendations, and I am happy to give the right hon. Gentleman [Ed Miliband] the undertaking that we will also discuss with him and others across the House how best to approach this matter, once we have undertaken that consideration.
This is an example, once again, of the House demonstrating on a cross-party basis a determination to tackle climate change, as we showed in the Climate Change Act. The Government are determined to build on the momentum of Paris, and our positive response to the right hon. Gentleman today is a clear example of that.”


Zero scrabble photo by GotCredit on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence