Climate watchdog calls for 'concrete green policy action' amidst Paris Agreement and Brexit
Britain's green policies must be preserved or strengthened post-Brexit and a credible new strategy on low-carbon heat must be delivered as soon as possible, but it is still too early for the Government to adopt stricter targets for tackling climate change in line with the soon-to-be-ratified Paris Agreement, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said.
In three new reports released today (13 October), the CCC – which advises the UK Government on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – urges the Government to “vigorously pursue” a package of measures it has identified in order to meet existing national climate commitments at the lowest cost.
The reports address three key green policy questions: How can the UK Government tackle the issue of reducing emissions from heating the UK's buildings in order to meet the Fourth and Fifth Carbon Budgets? How might the Paris Agreement impact the UK's climate targets and strategy? And how might Brexit affect carbon budgets?
CCC chairman Lord Deben said: “In its speedy acceptance of the Fifth Carbon Budget and its support for the Paris Agreement, the new Government has shown it is committed to tackling climate change.
“The vote to leave the EU does not alter those commitments – nor does it change the risks that climate change poses. Action is needed now to ensure the UK can deliver its climate obligations at least cost.
“For too long, Government policy has neglected the UK’s ageing homes and heating systems. It is time to remedy that failure with policies that are simple, stable, and designed to work for the ordinary household.”
In its first report – Meeting Carbon Budgets: Implications of Brexit for UK climate policy – the CCC reiterates that the vote to leave the EU does not change the UK’s legal commitments to reduce its emissions by 57% by 2030 and at least 80% by 2050 (relative to 1990) under the Climate Change Act.
With UK climate policy so entrenched in the context of EU climate actions, the CCC is in this report calling for the Government to preserve or strengthen existing EU policies and incorporate them into UK frameworks. Following the vote to leave the EU, the Government will need to preserve, replicate, or take opportunities to improve areas of policy previously agreed by the UK at the EU level, the CCC says, as existing policies would at best deliver around half of the required emissions reduction to 2030.
The Government should also capitalise on opportunities to improve some EU policy approaches, according to the report. For example, a UK alternative to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) scheme should link farming support more closely to actions that would reduce emissions; and heat policy should focus more generally on low-carbon heat, rather than solely renewable heat.
The second report - Next steps for UK heat policy – notes that the UK’s attempts to deliver low-carbon heating and hot water – which make up one fifth of UK emissions - have been “unsuccessful”. The CCC says a new energy efficiency programme is therefore urgently required for UK homes, including seven million insulations of walls and lofts. Efficiency measures could cut energy demand for heating by around 15% while reducing energy bills.
The report also suggests that the Government should instate a 2050 target to “largely eliminate” emissions from heating and hot water, in order to meet the emissions reduction levels set out in the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement. And it calls on the Government to decide whether there exists a place for hydrogen energy for buildings on the gas grid, consider sector wide policy renewal, and to establish clear goals for the upcoming carbon budgets to focus on energy efficiency and low-carbon heating.
The third report - UK climate action following the Paris Agreement - considers domestic-level actions that the Government should take to contribute fairly to the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 2C.
Interestingly, in this report, the CCC’s key message for Government is: Do not set new UK emissions targets now, despite the Agreement set to be officially ratified next month. The country already has stretching targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Committee says, and achieving those targets will be a positive contribution to global climate action.
In line with the Paris Agreement, the Government has indicated it intends at some point to set a UK target for reducing domestic emissions to net zero. “We have concluded it is too early to do so now, but setting such a target should be kept under review,” the CCC states. “The five-yearly cycle of pledges and reviews created by the Paris Agreement provide regular opportunities to consider increasing UK ambition.”
This particular point has been labelled as “very disappointing” by campaign group Friends of the Earth, which claims the CCC’s advice should be “based on the scientific evidence, not what it feels politically expedient”.
CCC reports: Industry reaction
Craig Bennett, chief executive, Friends of the Earth
“What sort of message will this send to the rest of the world if Britain, once a climate leader, offers only delay on one of the central tenets of the Paris Agreement less than twelve months after it was signed?
“It’s no surprise that the Government’s approach to climate policy is failing. A child could tell you that building new runways, allowing new open-cast coal mines, and forcing fracking on local communities, while doing precious little to support renewables or energy saving, isn’t going to help us limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.
“But it’s Government policy that needs to change and fast, not just the targets.”
Nick Molho, executive director, Aldersgate Group
“With the help of business and civil society, the Government should now develop a detailed emissions reduction plan that will attract affordable private sector investment in energy efficiency and low carbon infrastructure to meet the UK’s carbon budgets at least cost and in line with the recommendations of the CCC in its latest reports.
“In doing so, the Government should put forward a clear plan to demonstrate the technical and commercial viability of new technologies in complex areas such as decarbonising heat. The upcoming industrial strategy is also an ideal opportunity to complement the emissions reduction plan and consider how targeted government initiatives can maximise growth and employment opportunities in the UK’s low-carbon supply chain.”
Maf Smith, deputy chief executive, RenewableUK
“The CCC is right to highlight that fact that new auctions for low-carbon contracts can help drive down the cost of people’s electricity bills. When it comes to putting the consumer first, onshore wind deserves a clear route to market, as it’s the cheapest way to generate new power.
“The UK Government’s leading role in securing the global agreement on climate change in Paris is being backed up by firm action at home. Renewables are playing a major role in our commitment to decarbonise, as well as delivering affordable, home-grown power to British homes, factories and offices”.
Emma Pinchbeck, head of energy and climate, WWF-UK
“The message from the independent experts on the CCC is loud and clear: while a 38% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 is a huge UK success story, we can’t afford to delay in delivering further reductions. Investors, businesses and citizens need more action to protect them from the dangers of climate change – yet the CCC estimates that current plans will only get the UK halfway towards delivering its Climate Change Act commitments.
“There are disturbing gaps in energy efficiency and heat policy - so rather than setting new targets, Ministers first need to focus on delivering on existing ones. We urgently need a plan setting out how to meet the carbon budgets that are now enshrined in law.
“Every challenge in climate and energy policy presents an exciting opportunity for growth. As it develops an emissions reduction plan, the Government should explore innovative technologies to take carbon out of the atmosphere; it should set out new ways of targeting heat policy effectively; and it should engage strongly with European initiatives like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.”
Jenny Hogan, director of policy, Scottish Renewables
“Already behind on its climate and renewable energy targets, we agree Government needs a clear strategy to decarbonise heat – which makes up almost half of the energy used in the UK.
“As part of a package of support Government must now reform the Renewable Heat Incentive to ensure the roll-out of low-carbon heat networks and technologies.
“The provision of a route to market for our cheapest forms of low-carbon electricity generation – onshore wind and solar – is, we agree, key to meeting what the Committee calls our ‘already stretching’ emissions goals. Excluding these technologies, as the CCC states, increases costs for consumers.
“The renewables industry is poised to work with the UK Government to achieve these ambitions, enabling us not only to meet our legally-binding climate targets, and those set through the Paris Agreement, but also increase the UK jobs and investment renewable energy is already delivering”.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC)
“At a time when the Government is dragging its heels in ratifying the Paris Agreement, these reports from the Committee on Climate Change present a bleak picture of where we are with our current emissions reduction policies. They highlight an urgent need for us to do more to plug our current policy gap.
"We strongly echo the Committee’s call for a long-term framework to reduce the emissions from buildings. The UK needs to be building homes which perform as they were designed to, and which will not need to be retrofitted in just 15 years’ time. A clear trajectory for Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards is essential to allow businesses to gear up, innovate and deliver against more robust standards.
“We are calling for strong representation of the building sector within the Government’s upcoming Emissions Reduction Plan and Industrial Strategy. With half of building emissions reductions policies currently dependent on the EU, these will be crucial to providing long term certainty against the backdrop of Brexit.”