According to the UK’s Climate Change Committee, the nation is not on course to meet its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the coming decades.
In 2008, the UK set the target of reducing emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee, stated: “Although the UK seeks to lead the world in tackling climate change, the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s…We recognise that over the last ten years, the government has shown that it has the know-how and commitment to drive down UK emissions.”
The government’s policy has been to set ‘carbon budgets’ for successive five-year periods, with gradually increasing targets for emissions reduction.
The Committee has pointed out that all is not negative, however – the first three of five planned budgets have been met or exceeded, with the period 2008-2017 (two budgets) having outperformed targets. The reason for the negative report, then, is that the targets for the two last budgets planned, 2023-2027 and 2028-2032, are predicted to be missed by 6% and 7% respectively. So, while the country’s environmental impact is improving, the reduction isn’t happening fast enough.
This raises of the prospect of lawsuits from environmental charities, as the initial targets were enshrined in law. The government’s has argued, according to its Clean Growth Strategy, that they can ‘borrow’ carbon emissions from other budgets, allowing them to slightly miss some targets in return for promising to further tighten up for later budgets.
Lord Deben partially blamed the housing and motor industries for the lack of progress: “The [housing] industry should be ashamed of itself. it is producing homes that cheat the people they are sold to.” The Committee’s report noted that ambitious government proposals, such as to end the sale of all non-hybrid vehicles (petrol of diesel only), are yet to be “turned into firm policies” or be any more than pipe dreams. Deben also said that the proposed phase-out of such vehicles, scheduled for 2040, should be moved closer to 2030 in order to meet emissions targets for carbon budgets in the 2030s. The transport sector has also been highlighted for a lack of progress, with the Department for Transport’s ambitious ‘Road to Zero’ strategy being delayed from starting.
Deben also noted that environmental policies directly help consumers by reducing the cost of their energy bills, saying that on average, since the reforms came in, an average monthly energy bill has fallen by £11. The Committee highlighted areas of great success, such as the electricity industry, where production emissions have been reduced by 75% since 2012. However, even here, the Committee has found fault with governmental policies, especially the lack of support for onshore wind installations, which are far cheaper than offshore wind power, and the withdrawal of incentives for home insulation by consumers. The Committee in general argued that tighter restrictions are necessary in all sectors.