Barry Gardiner

Working Hard for Brent North

Barry calls out government on handling of net zero emissions challenge

Barry attacks government over their failure to meet either current emissions targets or mooted net zero goal.

Net zero is the aim. But the Tories won’t get us there.

This article was first published on Business Green.

How curious to see Claire Perry showered with praise for announcing that she intends to  seek the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s climate goals. Some of us thought that was what the 2008 Climate Change Act specifically required her to do by statute!

Stranger still to see her make such an announcement without a single reference to “net zero emissions”, a “1.5 degrees limit”, the current “80% target”, or even the “Climate Change Act” itself. Perhaps such economy of language is simply the minister’s Orwellian style. But perhaps we should be asking why the department did not even highlight the announcement in their own press release that was sent out with the speech. The truth is this announcement is two years old and they have spent the past 24 months doing nothing to implement it.

We already have a clear indication of what the Committee on Climate Change will say. In their most recent assessment, they determined that keeping close to the 1.5 degrees limit implies emissions reductions of at least 90% below 1990 levels by 2050.

So the real question is not “What advice will the Committee on Climate Change give?” The real question is “Will this government have the guts to implement what they already know is required?”

Every indication is that they will not. This government showed its utter failure to understand the real challenge of alignment with net zero when it submitted the Clean Growth Strategy to the UN as the UK’s 'mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy'.

What is so extraordinary is that the document only delivers detailed mitigation through to the 2032. It is not a 'mid-century' strategy.

What is worse; that Clean Growth Strategy falls far short of what is needed to meet our legally binding carbon budgets. In fact, it achieves barely half the emissions reductions needed to bridge the gap between the 4th and 5th budgets.

To present this as a mid-century low emission development strategy is either contemptuous of the United Nations, or a very bad joke!

By deciding to submit it on the same day as announcing a review of climate targets, the government have immediately made it obsolete. If we are to align with the Paris Agreement, we will need to reach net zero around 2070 – and this translates to much higher ambition before 2050 than we have currently legislated for. A decision to move to net zero implies a mid-century strategy for near total decarbonisation of our economy. So, their Clean Growth Strategy, written with the 80% by 2050 target in mind, is redundant.

The deadline for submitting mid-century strategies to the UN is in 2020. Instead of rushing to send an inadequate strategy in a bid to make themselves look like climate leaders, they should have taken the time do it right. They should have reflected upon the spirit of the Paris Agreement, and its emphasis on ratcheting our climate ambitions prior to 2020 to ensure that global emissions peak as soon as possible. They should have waited for the CCC’s advice later this year. And then they should have written a new, beefed up Clean Growth Strategy that would demonstrably meet our carbon budgets, and which would be realigned to reflect our new net zero trajectory.

But by telling the world that the mid-century plan to decarbonise the UK is the Clean Growth Strategy – a set of policies that is not even set to achieve the legislated target of 57% reduction in emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels – they’ve shown they fundamentally fail to understand that the actions we need for a 1.5 degrees limit and a net zero world.

If the Tories are serious about net zero, then it needs to make this a legislative priority. Parliamentary time is already constrained enough as it is, with a backlog of Brexit legislation yet to even be laid before the House. But climate change has deadlines too. It might be worth Claire Perry looking at recent research by the LSE’s Grantham Institute, showing that aligning the Climate Change Act with the Paris Agreement needs to take place by 2020, to coincide with the CCC’s advice on the 6th carbon budget and the submission of our new Nationally Determined Contribution. And if we’re going to take a second look at our domestic legislation, perhaps the Tories should also consider committing themselves to tougher deadlines on presenting Parliament with a strategy for meeting carbon budgets - so that we can avoid a repeat of the fiasco that was the 15 months it took them to produce the Clean Growth Strategy.

The announcement that the government will seek advice about achieving net zero and putting the UK on course for the 1.5 limit is worth only one cheer – not three. The second cheer will come when they actually follow the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and announce measures that would make up the shortfall in our existing carbon budgets. The third cheer will come when they submit a revised clean growth plan to the United Nations that will deliver a proper mid-century emissions strategy consistent with a 1.5 limit and a net zero world.


published this page in News 2018-04-25 15:24:15 +0100

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