Concern over climate change measures 'grinding to a halt'
Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 7% in 2011, but not because of any surge in renewable energy or improved carbon savings.
Most of the reduction came as a result of higher energy prices, milder weather and lower incomes. In fact, climate change measures accounted for just 0.8% of emissions reductions last year, prompting suggestions that progress in some areas is "grinding to a halt".
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned that the rate of underlying progress is too slow and is "only a quarter of that required to meet future carbon budgets".
CCC chief executive David Kennedy said emissions needed to be driven down as a matter of urgency. "As the economy recovers it will be difficult to keep the country on track to meet the carbon budgets," he said.
"There are some good initiatives in the pipeline, but more is needed to improve the investment climate, and put in place incentives so that people and businesses can act."
This is the fourth annual report the CCC has provided to government on progress towards tackling climate change and there is evidence that time is running out for the "step-change" the CCC called for in its first report.
One area of concern was a possible second "dash for gas", a move that the CCC claimed would be "a very bad thing" given the higher costs compared to low-carbon technologies and the risks of not meeting the legally binding carbon reduction targets set out in the Climate Change Act.
Last week, Energy Minister Charles Hendry published new statistics showing "a clear increase across all renewables" and that "the UK is powering forward on clean and secure energy and is clearly a very attractive place to invest".
However, the CCC report shows there has only been a third of the annual investment required in onshore and offshore wind required by the end of the decade, while there has been "slippage" in the demonstration for Carbon Capture and Storage.
The reform of the electricity market will, said the CCC, require a clear carbon objective to encourage investment in low-carbon and carbon capture technologies. The CCC said there had been "good progress" on loft and cavity wall insulation, but there are still seven million lofts and seven million cavity walls left to insulate in workplaces and homes.
Others agree that the pace of change is still far too slow. "The long term prospects for UK business and economic development depend on breaking the link between carbon emissions and growth. At the moment we're not even loosening it very effectively," said Jonathan Grant, director for sustainability & climate change at PwC.
"The UK's carbon productivity is grinding to a halt. Energy efficiency, while important, will only ever get us so far."