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Government committee: UK should not increase emission reduction targets

The UK government has been advised to not alter its 57% carbon emissions reduction, despite the call for more ambitious action by the Paris climate agreement.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), a government climate watchdog, made its latest recommendations for the UK’s fifth carbon budget in a letter sent to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd.

In the letter, the CCC repeated its recommendation that the fifth carbon budget be legislated at 1,765 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, originally made in November 2015.

The letter calls the target of 1,765MtCO2e, equivalent to a 57% cut in emissions between 2028-2032, the “minimum level of UK ambition necessary” and deems it sufficient for the time being.

“The [Paris] Agreement aims to hold the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C and to reach net zero global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the second half of the century.

“This is more ambitious than the basis of the UK’s statutory target for 2050,” the CCC says.

The UK has set itself a target to reduce its GHG emissions by at least 80% from the 1990 levels.

The CCC echoes the current UK government’s insistence on reaching these reductions through a “cost-effective path”.

Additional effort to reduce emissions further is possible, but only if there is a combined call for it on the EU level.

“The cost-effective path to the existing 2050 target, on which our proposed budget is based, exceeds the UK’s likely obligation under the current EU 2030 package. The budget therefore supports and prepares for greater 2030 ambition at the EU level,” the letter reads.

Call for CCS

The CCC lays down policy recommendations on how to reach the 2050 target, including extending the Levy Control Framework beyond 2020 and awarding contracts to low-carbon generators, address the “significant shortfall” in low-carbon heating, and increase support for electric vehicles.

The report also refers to the UK government’s controversial decision to scrap the £1 billion (€1.3bn) carbon capture and storage (CCS) project and calls for the government to “urgently” develop a new approach.

“CCS makes a substantial contribution across several sectors in our scenarios to meet the 2050 target. This will only be possible if there has been sufficient development in the period to 2030,” the CCC says.

Without CCS, the Committee estimates the cost of meeting the country’s 2050 targets would be twice as high and will require extra emissions saving of at least 35MtCO2e per year, or the full decarbonisation of buildings and road transport.

“A reduced role for CCS to 2050 both reduces its direct contribution to lowering emissions, and also closes down a range of important options that could compensate for this shortfall,” the CCC concludes.

The Committee states that the decision to drop government funding “must not and does not” leave CCS out of the picture permanently, provided an alternate approach is found.

‘Desperately disappointing’

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) said it supports the CCC in stating that its recommendations “should be seen as a minimum standard”, particularly when viewed against the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

“Meeting this budget will require more government leadership than is now being shown. We also raise concerns that the CCC underestimates the contribution that bioenergy sources can make to meet the budget, particularly anaerobic digestion (biogas) and biomass,” Mark Sommerfeld, policy analyst at REA, said.

The environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth called the recommendation not to increase climate targets “desperately disappointing”.

“The CCC should have provided comprehensive advice and guidance on what measures the UK needs to take to help achieve [the Paris Agreement targets]. 

“The positivity and back slapping of Paris will fade very soon, unless our official advisory and regulatory bodies realise what governments signed up to in December and work out what it means for action back home,” said Craig Bennet, the environmental group’s CEO.

Adam Wentworth, communication officer at RenewableUK, said that Britain had “proved it was willing to play its part” during the Paris climate talks.

“In the same spirit, the CCC’s advice should be heeded in full if we are going to live up to the promise of the Paris Accord. We need the necessary policies at home to achieve these goals," said Wenworth.

This article was written by Ilari Kauppila, deputy editor at Bioenergy Insight