UK efforts meaningless without global climate deal, MPs warn

11 January 2010

The UK’s efforts to tackle climate change could be 'rendered meaningless' if world leaders fail to reverse the growth in global emissions by 2020, MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee warn today.

Nevertheless, the Committee's latest report says that it is now crucial for the Government to cut emissions quicker at home - to help build international political will for a binding climate deal after the failed Copenhagen summit.

The report on Carbon Budgets examines the UK’s current progress and finds that the Government is only on track to meet its first carbon budget because of the impact of the recession. Ministers have often been too 'optimistic' when projecting how much carbon their policies will cut – and there is now a worrying shortfall in delivery; UK emissions are currently falling by only about 1 per cent per year, instead of the 2-3 per cent per year which the Committee on Climate Change say is needed.

Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said:

"The UK’s efforts to tackle climate change could be rendered meaningless if global leaders fail to reach a deal to reverse the growth in emissions by 2020.

"We must send a clear signal to developing countries that we are serious about making an international deal work – by meeting our own targets more quickly.

"The slower our progress; the less credibility we will have internationally.

"At the moment, we are only on track to meet the targets in our first carbon budget period because of the impact of the recession."

The Committee said that the management of the carbon budget is as vital as that of the fiscal budget and requires the same level of political attention, civil service commitment, and parliamentary scrutiny. Although the scientific case for more stringent targets is growing, the Government should focus on making more rapid progress against its existing budgets.

The Government must first deliver the carbon savings promised in its Low Carbon Transition Plan, then urgently bring forward new measures to increase the rate at which emissions are falling to 2-3 per cent per year and then move to tighten carbon budgets and increase the 2020 target for reducing emissions to a cut of 42 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020.

The Committee is also calling on the Government to:

  • work in international climate negotiations on getting emissions to peak as soon as possible. Failure to reverse the rise in global emissions before 2020 could raise average global temperatures by more than 2 degrees Celsius – widely considered to be a "dangerous" threshold
  • secure competitive advantages for the UK in emerging markets for low-carbon technologies by being prepared to move unilaterally
  • move to a target of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 42 per cent cut by 2020 and implement the intended budget irrespective of whether or not the EU moves to a 30 per cent target for cutting its emissions, but only once the Government has shown that it is on track to meet its current targets and budgets
  • monitor the latest science and start planning the options available for reducing emissions further and faster in case the scale of the crisis demands bigger cuts
  • put the right regulatory framework in place to ensure that we do not wrongly invest in high-carbon infrastructure

Tim Yeo MP said:

"Setting carbon budgets involves making a series of difficult political judgments that balance what science is telling us with what is affordable, feasible and politically acceptable.

"On balance the Government has got these judgments right. Where it is falling down is on delivery."

Image: iStockphoto

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