U.K. Emissions Policy – “Clearly Incoherent”

The following are excerpts from the “Conclusions and Recommendations” section of Beyond Stern: From the Climate Change Programme Review to the Draft Climate Change Bill, published on July 30 by the the Environmental Audit Committee of the U.K. House of Commons. The language is parliamentary and polite, but the criticisms of Labour Government policy are profound.

The Committee, composed of 9 Labour MPs, 5 Conservative MPs and 2 Liberal-Democrat MPs, was created by the House of Commons to “consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development.”


Climate change is on a different scale from any other political challenge. Its potential effects could be both physically and economically devastating. It is not just the size but the timing of these effects that poses such a challenge. The lag between emitting CO2 and experiencing the resulting rise in temperatures means we must take bold action today in the hope of preventing dangerous climate change occurring in the future, the impacts of which could be irreversible. Timing is also an issue given the long term planning and investments required to roll out new technologies and infrastructure, and thereby decarbonise the economy.

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We consider it unacceptable that it took so long after 2000 for Government projections to catch up with reality. As late as the 2003 Energy White Paper, the Government was still projecting that the 2010 target would be met in full. The delay in producing more accurate forecasts severely retarded and impaired the ability of the Climate Change Programme Review to come up with policies that would get the 2010 target back on track.

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The downward revision, by some 16-26%, of the expected impact of carbon reduction policies in the 2000 Climate Change Programme shows, first of all, that the Government must eliminate “optimism bias” from its initial design of climate change policies. Secondly, it highlights the risks inherent in the Government’s current approach, whereby it seeks to implement policies which will deliver only just enough carbon savings to span the gap between a “Business As Usual” projection of where emissions are going to be in a certain year and a target level of emissions for that year. Government forecasts of “BAU” emissions have so far consistently been too low, while its forecasts of the impact of carbon reduction policies have consistently been too high. The moral is that the Government should err on the side of caution, and aim to overachieve its targets.

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We have queried the Government’s use of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) in a number of inquiries. We were interested to learn that, as the NAO [National Audit Office] put it, the cost-effectiveness analysis in the CCPR [Climate Change Programme Review] “sensibly excluded the social cost of carbon”, and that one of the main reasons why the Review opted to use cost-effectiveness analysis in the first place was “because it is not reliant on a firm valuation of the social cost of carbon”.

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The Government’s policy towards the UK’s 2050 target is clearly incoherent. The Government remains committed to limiting global warming to a rise of 2ºC; but it also acknowledges that, according to recent scientific research, a cut in UK emissions of 60% by 2050 is now very unlikely to be consistent with delivering this goal. While the Office of Climate Change was justified in telling us that the “at least 60%” target in the draft Bill is within the range discussed in the Stern Review, this is clearly the minimum in emissions reductions which the Stern Review sets out. In fact, Stern states that this would correspond to a 63%-99% chance of exceeding a warming of 2ºC, and describes this level of global warming as “a dangerous place to be, with substantial risks of very unpleasant outcomes”. We recommend that the 2050 be strengthened to reflect current scientific understanding of the emission cuts required for a strong probability at stabilising warming at 2ºC.

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The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research have made a very strong argument that the UK ought to make carbon reductions of 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. We recommend that the Government respond to Tyndall’s recommendations; and if it is rejecting them, explain why.

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It is clear to us that the Government will have to introduce more radical policies into its Climate Change Programme very soon if it is to meet even the 2020 target as currently set. Current measures, including those introduced by the recent Energy White Paper, are only projected to get us nearly to the bottom end of 2020 target range – and this at what the Office of Climate Change described to us as “the upper end of optimism”. The Government has thus far consistently overestimated the impact of its carbon reduction policies, while underestimating the upward trend in emissions from social and economic developments.

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