The government has been urged to put aside “short-term political considerations” following its move to bank past emissions cuts for future carbon budgets.
The UK overperformed on meeting the targets laid out in its second carbon budget, which covers UK emissions in the five years ending 2017.
Chris Skidmore MP, acting minister of state for energy, wrote to Committee on Climate Change (CCC) chair Lord Deben last Thursday to confirm reports that the government will carry forward a share of those emissions reductions into the current 2018 to 2023 budget.
The CCC advised the government in February last year that past overperformance on emissions should not be used to help achieve future cuts.
Skidmore’s letter states that the government has “no intention” of using this overperformance to meet carbon budget three, which it says the UK is “on track to exceed too”.
But it says the government will carry over 88 megatonnes (mt) of CO2, just under a quarter of the 384mt surplus in carbon budget two, while work is being carried out into whether the baseline for calculating the UK’s emissions should be revised.
The carried forward emissions will be released “once it is clear” that they will not be needed to address any “technical changes in the baseline”, says the letter. Skidmore requests advice from the CCC on this move, which was prompted by chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond, according to a report in the Financial Times last week.
Norman Lamb and Rachel Reeves, chairs of the science and technology and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committees respectively, issued a joint statement criticising the government’s move.
They said: “We are disappointed by [the] announcement from the government that it will carry over some of its overachievement in the second carbon budget to the third carbon budget.
“This goes against the explicit and repeated advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change and the arguments our committees have made to ministers.
“It’s time for the government to put to one side short-term political considerations and for it to focus on taking decisions to achieve its long-term commitment of net-zero by 2050.
“If the government is to achieve net-zero, the UK’s carbon budgets will need to be strengthened, not weakened and the prime minister will have to overcome the chancellor’s foot dragging.”
Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK, said: “It’s concerning if the government is choosing to ignore the clear advice from the Committee on Climate Change on this issue.
“The UK’s world-leading role in reducing carbon emissions to levels last seen in the 1890s owes much to following the CCC’s advice and targets – as well as the power sector’s transformation to a point where half our electricity generation comes from low carbon sources.
“Despite this achievement, we have much, much further to go especially if we are to have any chance of hitting net-zero by 2050, which we believe is both possible and essential to do.
“Even if the carry forward is in anticipation of a baseline adjustment, rather than use past overachievements to make meeting future targets less demanding, we must still be more ambitious and more innovative – for example, by funding a national energy efficiency programme and doing more to decarbonise the heat and transport sectors, as we have recommended in our recent Future of Energy report.”