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Ministers must stick to carbon dioxide emissions reductions, says CCC

George Osborne and Danny Alexander

Chancellor George Osborne, left, with Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander. Osborne has spoken out strongly against ‘burden’ of green regulations on business. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Ministers must stick to carbon dioxide emissions reductions, says CCC” was written by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th December 2013 09.53 UTC

Ministers must stand by their commitment to drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, despite deepening coalition rifts over the issue, the government’s advisers on climate change have urged.

Households will pay just under £200 a year by 2020 to subsidise low-carbon energy and industry, rising to about £220 by 2030, they said. But these costs will save money in the longer term because they will reduce reliance on expensive imported gas – on current gas prices, about £100bn will be saved by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body set up to advise the government on meeting long-term carbon goals, said firmly on Wednesday that there was no reason to revise the UK’s carbon budgets, which require a halving of carbon emissions in the 2020s, compared with 1990 levels.

“This is clearly the most cost-effective way to proceed,” said Lord Deben, chairman of the committee and former Conservative environment minister. He said the study had shown no evidence that businesses would fail to invest in the UK because of carbon reduction policies, and that the evidence suggested sticking to the carbon budgets would save money in the longer term.

However, the committee refused several requests to allow journalists to see the full document in advance of publication, releasing only an eight-page summary of the review.

The committee’s review of the carbon budgets was at the behest of George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, who has spoken out strongly against what he sees as the “burden” of green regulations on business. He suggested that the UK was in danger of losing competitive advantage by going further and faster on carbon cuts than rival countries.

But the committee told journalists the UK was “not out in front” compared with other EU member states and major trading nations such as China, which are also putting in place measures to curb greenhouse gases. Its study found that there was no impact on the UK’s energy-intensive industries from the fourth carbon budget, which will run from 2023 to 2027, because they are already protected from carbon prices and rising energy costs.

Under the terms of the Climate Change Act, the government can only challenge the committee’s findings if it can produce evidence contradicting the report. Any attempt to circumvent the advice would be subject to judicial review.

However, there is no deadline for the government’s response to the study. That means that, in theory, the coalition could put off a decision until after the next general election in 2015. Lord Deben warned that postponing a response would hurt investment. “There is a huge market out there [for green goods and services] – I want those jobs and investment to come to Britain,” he said.

Some sections of industry urged the chancellor to conduct his own “hard-edged” review of the carbon budgets. Steve Radley, director of policy at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said: “Industry will be deeply concerned that the committee on climate change is advising that the UK remains on a unilateral trajectory towards a 50% reduction in emissions. With other EU members showing little appetite to match our ambitions, this will continue to push electricity prices above our competitors and risks pushing investment abroad. Government must now demonstrates it understands the competitiveness issues at stake by undertaking a hard-edged review of the committee’s evidence.”

The EU is set to discuss its 2030 emissions target in the next few months, and several member states are arguing for a 50% reduction compared with 1990 levels, if this level of ambition is matched by other countries. The EEF was unable, when asked, to provide examples of investment going abroad as a result of the UK’s carbon policies, or research on how the UK’s carbon targets would affect productivity.

Green groups said the committee’s findings should be confirmed as government policy as soon as possible. Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: “There’s no justification for watering down the fourth carbon budget – doing so would drive up emissions, drive away jobs and send Britain’s international credibility on this crucial issue into reverse. Our over-reliance on increasingly costly fossil fuels has sent bills soaring. Leading businesses are crying out to invest in our huge renewable energy potential but they need the confidence to do so, which is why they are backing ambitious cuts in UK carbon.”


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