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UK Needs “Concrete Action” To Meet Paris Agreement Commitments

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change said Friday that the country needs “concrete action” if it is to meet its Paris Agreement commitments, and that the Brexit vote does not mitigate the need for immediate action.

In a set of new reports published by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) this week, the Committee recommended that the UK Government “vigorously pursue” the full range of policy suggestions outlined so that the UK can meet its climate commitments at the lowest cost. However, though the CCC describes the Paris Agreement as marking “a significant positive step in global action to tackle climate change” and that the Agreement “is more ambitious in its aims to limit climate change than the basis of the UK’s existing climate targets,” the Committee nevertheless believes that “it is not yet appropriate to set new UK targets.”

“Existing targets are already stretching and the priority is to take action to meet them. The vote to leave the EU does not change the UK’s legal commitments to reduce its emissions by 57% by 2030 and at least 80% by 2050 (relative to 1990) under the Climate Change Act.”

“In its speedy acceptance of the fifth carbon budget and its support for the Paris Agreement, the new government has shown it is committed to tackling climate change,” said Lord Deben, CCC Chairman.

“The vote to leave the EU does not alter those commitments — nor does it change the risks that climate change poses. Action is needed now to ensure the UK can deliver its climate obligations at least cost. For too long, Government policy has neglected the UK’s ageing homes and heating systems. It is time to remedy that failure with policies that are simple, stable, and designed to work for the ordinary household.”

The UK had been doing relatively well in terms of its forward progress, reducing emissions 38% below 1990 levels while also growing its GDP by 60%. However, since the financial crisis, the country’s emissions reductions have stemmed primarily from the growth in its renewable energy capacity. The CCC notes that further reductions are immediately needed in transport, heat, industry, and agriculture, in order to meet the 2030 carbon budget which was legislated by the current Government, in order to prepare sufficiently for any 2050 targets — and ultimately, in order to meet the Paris goal of net zero emissions in the second half of this century.

Two key findings were reached by the Committee in order to reduce emissions from UK households and businesses. First, the Committee explains that policies to improve energy efficiency are needed to achieve more emissions reductions. Currently, heating and hot water for UK buildings make up one-fifth of the UK’s entire emissions, but progress on improving their efficiency has stalled. A new energy efficiency program is needed immediately, and could cut energy demand for heating by around 15% while simultaneously reducing energy bills.

Secondly, an effective roll-out of multiple low-carbon heating options is required immediately. “The UK’s attempts to deliver low-carbon heat have so far been unsuccessful,” said the Committee, adding that a “proper strategy is needed so that the next Parliament can set a clear course for the UK.”

Given the relatively lackluster approach taken by the Committee in their recommendations, the reception of these reports has been similarly unenthusiastic about the current state of affairs, and its future.

“The findings of the Committee on Climate Change confirm that the lack of clear energy policy is jeopardizing not only our energy security, but also our ability to meet the UK’s stretching carbon targets,” said Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

“At a time when the Government is dragging its heels in ratifying the Paris Agreement, these reports from the Committee on Climate Change present a bleak picture of where we are with our current emissions reduction policies,” said Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of UK Green Building Council. “They highlight an urgent need for us to do more to plug our current policy gap.”

“This is very disappointing,” added Craig Bennet, Friends of the Earth chief executive. “The Committee on Climate Change should offer advice on carbon budgets based on the scientific evidence, not what feels politically expedient. What sort of message will this send to the rest of the world if Britain, once a climate leader, offers only delay on one of the central tenets of the Paris Agreement less than twelve months after it was signed?”

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