Delaying a decision to approve carbon emission reduction targets for the 2020s could risk losing investment in UK businesses, the government’s official climate advisers have been warned.
In an open letter to energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey, Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), stresses the importance of a swift decision.
In December, the CCC is due to submit its final recommendations on a review of the fourth carbon budget, which covers the years 2023-2027. However, Deben has written to Davey ahead of this to update him on the committee’s “emerging conclusions” on one of the issues covered in the review: whether the UK’s carbon budgets align with the European Union’s reduction targets.
When the government agreed to the carbon budget in 2011, it was added that it would be reviewed in early 2014 to see whether the UK’s targets were in line with those of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. If they were not, then the UK’s targets would be adjusted to match those of the union.
In the letter however, Deben, environment secretary in John Major’s Conservative government as John Gummer, insists “there is no legal or economic justification to change the budget in this respect at this time. Rather, the budget remains cost-effective, with manageable costs and impacts, given our assessment of EU developments.”
He also urges Davey to ensure that a decision on the budget is made as swiftly as possible in the new year, as delaying risks increasing doubt over investment in low carbon technologies in the UK.
“Do they need a long-drawn-out process that take months and involves lots of new analysis? We don’t think so. We think it can be resolved early in the new year,” he said.
“We are looking for a very significant investment across the set of low carbon technologies over the next months and years, but negative signals from government scare investors off.”
The committee’s full report will discuss the necessity of carbon reduction, and make a recommendation on whether the budget targets should remain unchanged.
On Monday, the leading economist and climate change expert Lord Stern argued that talks must begin urgently on a global carbon budget.
This followed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest review on the science of climate change. For the first time, scientists estimated how much more carbon dioxide can be released into the environment by manmade processes before irreversible damage is done.
The IPCC said that in order to have a chance of keeping to less than a potentially catastrophic 2C of warming, the total carbon emitted globally could not exceed 1,000 gigatons. The report estimated that humanity may have already used up two-thirds of this budget.
Summarising the IPCC’s findings, Stern said, “Given that the world is currently emitting about 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in terms of carbon-dioxide-equivalent each year, this report implies that, even if we were to stay at current levels, we would exhaust the emissions budget within 15 to 25 years.
“If we continue to increase annual emissions, the budget will be depleted even sooner. That is why I think nations, cities, communities and companies will recognise the importance of these findings and will increase the urgency and scale of the emissions reductions that they are planning to undertake.