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Government warned against loosening future climate targets

Warning from independent advisers comes as the UK outperforms its legal goal to cut emissions from 2018-2022.

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Wind turbines and electricity pylon (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Future targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions should not be loosened, the UK’s independent climate advisers have warned.

The UK outperformed on its legal target to cut emissions between 2018 and 2022, known as the third carbon budget, largely due to external factors including the pandemic.

Total emissions over the period were 391 million tonnes, or 15%, less than the maximum allowed under the third carbon budget.

But the Climate Change Committee has written to the Government warning the UK is “substantially” off track for targets to cut emissions by 2030 and beyond.

It should not carry forward any “surplus” emissions from the third carbon budget to help it meet the next set of targets – the fourth carbon budget – for the period 2023-2027, the advisory committee warns.

The carbon budgets are part of the UK’s long term legal goal under the 2008 Climate Change Act to cut emissions to zero overall, known as net zero, by 2050, to end the country’s contribution to global warming.

But the targets for the 2020s were set when a weaker goal to slash emissions by 80% by 2050 was still in place, and before the UK made international commitments to cut emissions by at least 68% by 2030.

The committee warns that the UK needs to speed up, not slow down, emissions reductions in all sectors outside electricity supply, where a faster than expected phase-out of coal has helped make good progress.

In most other sectors such as transport and buildings, the “UK is not on track and progress will need to accelerate rapidly”, the letter to net zero minister Graham Stuart says.

Ratcliffe on Soar power station (David Jones/PA)
Carbon budgets are part of the UK’s long term legal goal to cut emissions to zero overall by 2050, ending the country’s contribution to global warming (David Jones/PA)

Failing to outperform on the fourth carbon budget would leave the UK’s international 2030 commitment and further emissions cutting targets at risk.

And the committee said the carbon budgets provide a clear long-term signal to investors and businesses.

So carrying forward surplus emissions could weaken that message, causing business uncertainty and “could ultimately result in net zero being more expensive and harder to achieve”, the letter warns.

Professor Piers Forster, interim chairman of the Climate Change Committee, said:  “We congratulate the Government on meeting the latest emissions target – the Climate Change Act is working.

“But the path ahead is tougher and we risk losing momentum if future legal targets are loosened on a technicality.

“The UK is already substantially off track for 2030 and the Government must resist the temptation to take their foot off the accelerator.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “We are the first major economy to halve emissions and have the most ambitious legally-binding emissions targets in the world.

“We have over-delivered on every carbon budget to date and will continue to meet our emissions targets.

“Following the process set out in the Climate Change Act, we will review the advice of the Climate Change Committee and consult with devolved administrations before taking any decision on whether the UK’s over-achievement on the third carbon budget is carried over.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas warned the advice from the committee was unequivocal that the UK’s climate target would be under serious threat if the Government used the surplus to justify less action and ambition in future carbon budgets

She said: “The UK is already dangerously behind on our 2030 targets – now is the time to speed action up, not find new excuses to dither and delay.”

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