Friends of the Earth explains UK carbon budgets

May 17th, 2011 by Friends of the Earth

Under the Climate Change Act 2008 a legally binding target was set to reduce the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Friends of the Earth led the successful campaign for the Climate Change Act.

To ensure this target is met, a series of carbon budgets have to be set which place legally binding ceilings on the level of UK emissions over allowed five year periods.

Each carbon budget covers a five-year period, with budgets set at least three periods in advance.

The first three budgets run from 2008-2012, 2013-2017 and 2018-2022.

The Climate Change Act requires the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to advise on the level of these carbon budgets.

Shortly before Christmas 2010 the CCC advised on the level of the fourth carbon budget, covering the period 2023-2027.

The Climate Change Act requires the Government to pass an Order through Parliament by 30 June 2011 setting the level of the fourth budget.

The big question has been whether or not the Government would accept the CCC advice on the level of the fourth budget, or allow higher carbon emissions than advised. It was rumoured that a less ambitious budget was being argued for by Treasury, DfT and BIS. Last week, a leaked letter from Business Secretary Vince Cable to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne showed that BIS was making the case to allow higher levels of greenhouse gas to be emitted.

The CCC made several other key recommendations in their advice on the fourth carbon budget. These recommendations do not have have to be included in the Government Order, which must be made by 30 June 2011, but Friends of the Earth says they ought to be accepted as policy by the Government. They include:

1. Setting an indicative reduction target of 60% by 2030 (on 1990 levels);

2. Adjusting the second and third budget periods to make them slightly more ambitious, to put the UK in a good position to meet the fourth carbon budget;

3. Confirming the UK would make the cuts in the fourth budget at home in the UK, and not by purchasing “carbon credits” from overseas to meet the target;

4. Offering to tighten the carbon budget further if a global deal on climate change was settled.

Next steps

The Climate Change Act requires the publication of “a report setting out proposals and policies for meeting the carbon budgets for the current and future budgetary periods” to be laid before Parliament as soon as is “reasonably practicable” after setting the budget. (Clause 14, Climate Change Act 2008).

Friends of the Earth will press for this report to include the other key recommendations of the CCC.

The tightening of the second and third budgets can also take place at any time up to the point at which they begin – 1 January 2013 and 2018 respectively (Clause 21, Climate Change Act 2008). Again, Friends of the Earth will press for this to be implemented. Early action to cut emissions is a vital part of getting us on track to meet later budgets.

Finally, a decision not to use carbon credits to meet budgets, but to make cuts in emissions at home in the UK, is already agreed for the second and third budgets. Like the CCC, we believe this should be extended to the fourth budget.

The Climate Change Act (Clause 11) does require Ministers to set a limit on the use of credits in each budget period, but the deadline for this is not until 18 months before the budget period starts (i.e. mid-2021 in the case of the fourth carbon budget).

However an early announcement of the intention to make the reductions in the UK would add to certainty for industry and investors in low carbon products and services, giving them confidence the Government will pursue policies that make their products viable.


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