The cabinet has defied its own climate change adviser by carrying forward emission reductions, which have already taken place, into its future carbon budgets.

The Financial Times has reported today (4 June) that the cabinet has accepted a request by chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond that 88 megatonnes (million tonnes) of emissions from the 2013 to 2017 carbon budget should be carried forward to give the UK more leeway in meeting future targets.

Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, the government has set a series of rolling five-year carbon budgets that set a cap on the level of emissions during the relevant periods.

During the second carbon budget, from 2013 to 2017, Britain emitted 384 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, below its cap of 2,782 megatonnes.

The government is now proposing that 88 megatonnes should be carried forward, which would make it easier to hit the upcoming and more demanding carbon budgets which kick in from 2023.

However the decision flies in the face of advice issued by the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) in February when it urged ministers not to take advantage of the existing rule.

Hammond wrote to colleagues last week urging them to reject the CCC advice, according to the FT, backed up by Greg Clark, business secretary.

The committee’s chair Lord Deben told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee earlier this year that using any over-performance on the existing carbon budget to compensate for under-performance in future years would be “unacceptable”.

And he said that such manoeuvres would make it “more expensive” to achieve emissions cuts in the fourth and fifth carbon budgets which will cover the decade from 2023 onwards.

Responding to the government’s announcement, shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead tweeted: “In public this government will loudly declare their climate leadership. But behind closed doors they’re using accounting tricks to hide megatonnes of emissions the size of Switzerland and New Zealand combined.”

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the Committee on Climate Change on how we best deliver against our world-leading carbon targets, including how we deal with technical changes in the way we account for carbon emissions.”

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