Committee on Climate Change report: UK behind on emissions targets

Jack Unwin 10 July 2019 (Last Updated July 10th, 2019 12:57)

The UK government has been criticised in the latest report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) for “lagging far behind what is needed, even to meet previous, less stringent, emissions targets.”

Committee on Climate Change report: UK behind on emissions targets
The UK government faced questions on its onshore wind policy in parliament on 16 July. Credit: Stephen Gidley

The UK government has been criticised in the latest report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) for “lagging far behind what is needed, even to meet previous, less stringent, emissions targets.”

CCC said that in the past year the government has only delivered on one of its 25 critical policies to get emissions reductions back on track. It also found that none of the 33 sectors including homes, business and the natural environment has shown progress in addressing climate change.

Policy implementation has also been poor; of the 25 recommendations the committee made in 2018 only one has been delivered whilst ten others have “not shown even partial progress.”

CCC noted that despite good overall progress the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had been sluggish in developing plans for carbon capture and storage technology and “held back” on onshore wind. BEIS has also not yet begun large-scale trials for heat pumps or low-carbon hydrogen technology.

CCC added that the UK Department for Transport (DfT) must do more to prioritise emissions reduction by setting a more ambitious target of phasing petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 rather than 2040 to save motorists money and reduce pollution.

Despite this, CCC noted some positive developments, though some of these “only in part reflect UK policy.” Coal-fired power generation is down significantly, whilst electric vehicles (EVs) are on track to be cheaper to run than standard cars by the 2020s. The UK has also managed to reduce emissions by 40% since 1990 whilst growing its economy by 75% in the same period, providing what CCC calls a “powerful international example” to encourage other countries to do the same.

CCC made further recommendations for the government, which included engaging with the public more on net-zero carbon emissions transition whilst also making policy business-friendly.

Reaction to CCC report

CCC chairman Lord Debden said: “The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target […] This is a historic step forward and positions the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition. But international ambition does not deliver domestic action. It’s time for the government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050 requires real action by government now.”

A government spokesperson responded: “As the CCC recognises, we are the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions, have cleaned up our power sector, cut emissions faster than any G7 country while growing the economy, championed adaptation and set a strong example for other countries to follow.

“We know there is more to do and legislating for net-zero will help to drive further action. We’ll set out plans in the coming months to tackle emissions from aviation, heat, energy, agriculture and transport as well further measures to protect the environment from extreme weather including flood protection and nature restoration.”

Renewable UK deputy chief executive Emma Pinchbeck said: “Just last month the UK set a world-leading climate target but there is now a void between our ambition and policies to actually meet it. Progress is slowing down due to Government inaction. Deciding you want to win Wimbledon is great, but at some point, you have to pick up the racket.

“Our offshore wind success shows that investing in green technologies in the UK pays dividends, not just for carbon reduction, but for British industry, the CCC says we should be repeating that success in other technologies because the clock is ticking on climate change.”

Green Party MP for Brighton Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Damning verdict from the CCC on Government abject failure to deliver policies to address the climate crisis. Ministers don’t seem remotely serious about action.”

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Douglas Parr condemned the government, stating: “This is a truly brutal reality check on the government’s current progress in tackling the climate emergency. It paints the government as a sleeper who’s woken up, seen the house is on fire, raised the alarm and gone straight back to sleep.

“Having a world-leading target is not enough, it needs to be accompanied by policies which match the target’s ambition on cars and vans, houses and offices, trains and planes. The government can’t keep coasting on the carbon reductions from getting coal out of the electricity system, which was absolutely necessary but by no means sufficient.

“We urgently need to take the same approach to oil, gas, and every sector with significant emissions. The new prime minister really must take the government’s net-zero commitment and turn it into something practically meaningful.”