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UK climate watchdog condemns government over decarbonisation ‘flexibilities’

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has welcomed the publication of the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS), but issued a broadside at government plans to use “flexibilities” to meet targets.

The CGS, published earlier today, outlines government initiatives to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets as endorsed by former energy secretary Amber Rudd last year.

However the document openly admits that the government expects to fall short of its ambitions, with emissions remaining 6% and 9.7% above budget in 2027 and 2032 respectively, even in spite of new policies. 

Image source: BEIS Clean Growth Strategy.

Image source: BEIS Clean Growth Strategy.

Climate change minister Claire Perry defended the government’s stance in the House of Commons today when questioned by Labour MP Alan Whitehead, and the plan itself discusses the use of so-called flexibilities written within the Climate Change Act to effectively meet budgets it has missed.

These flexibilities – such as the use of overperformance in meeting previous budgets, which the UK has achieved, or the purchase of international carbon credits from other countries – are steeped in controversy due to their perception as a workaround or opt-out for decarbonisation efforts.

However today the government has laid out its intention to meet these flexibilities should it see fit.

“We are prepared to use the flexibilities available to us to meet carbon budgets, subject to the requirements set out in the Climate Change Act, if this presents better value for UK taxpayers, businesses and domestic consumers,” the CGS states.

However the CCC, which acts as the UK’s watchdog on climate issues and scrutinises parliamentary activity on the matter, has warned the government that this should not be under consideration.

“We note that the Clean Growth Strategy suggests that ‘flexibilities’ in the Climate Change Act could be used to meet the carbon budgets in place of domestic action. This should not be the plan. The clear intention of the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets is that they are delivered through domestic action to keep the UK on the lowest cost path to the 2050 target to reduce emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels. That should be the goal, without the use of accounting flexibilities or reliance on international carbon credits,” Lord Deben, chairman at the CCC, said.

The CCC’s next act is to scrutinise the government’s strategy and formulate a response, which it intends to publish early next year.