UK government warned about climate change “policy gap”

The government of the UK has to devise fresh policies and commit more funding if it is to meet its targets for cutting carbon emissions, according to a progress report to parliament from its own Committee on Climate Change.

The committee said that more robust built-environment policies were needed.

The UK has until 2015 – 35 years – to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared with their 1990 levels, a target that is legally binding. The committee’s role is to advise the government on the best ways of doing so.

In terms of meeting the 2050 goal, the committee commented "the policy landscape is complex and in places inconsistent. Our assessment of existing policies is that some of these are at risk of failing to deliver, either due to design and delivery problems, or because they are currently unfunded".

Our assessment of existing policies is that some of these are at risk of failing to deliver, either due to design and delivery problems, or because they are currently unfunded– Committee on Climate Change

It added that the task of cutting carbon would become progressively more difficult and expensive as the easier measures were taken.

Furthermore, the committee found that "even if these policies delivered in full, there would be a policy gap to achievement of the fourth carbon budget (2023-27) and the cost-effective path to the 2050 target. This reflects that commitments to some policies are due to end and that policies have not yet been developed in other areas".

Its recommendations will have an influence on a range of government policies towards the built environment, including causal factors such as energy efficiency standards in Building Regulations, and effects, such as the need for more robust flood defences.

The committee found that UK’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 8% last year, and that this was "far higher than reductions since the financial crisis, which averaged 1% annually from 2009 to 2013, and goes beyond the 3% required by carbon budgets".

However, the report noted two percentage points were accounted for by the warm winter, and that the remainder by decrease in coal use.

The report also noted that progress had been made in expanding renewable electricity generation, installing efficient boilers, the use of low-carbon heat in industry and in limiting the carbon output of new vehicles.

Areas for improvement

It added, however, that underlying progress had been mixed, and made a number of recommendations for government action.

These included setting out its objectives for electricity generation in the 2020s to allow energy companies to invest with a 10-year lead time, as well as setting out the future of its Energy Company Obligations beyond 2017.

In the built environment, it called for the implementation of the zero-carbon homes standard "without further weakening". It also highlighted the failure to make progress on the supply of low carbon heat, or the introduction of measures to promote passive cooling in existing buildings.

The committee recommended maintaining support for the up-front cost of electric vehicles, and doing more to build up an infrastructure of carbon capture and storage.  

Alongside the Committee on Climate Change’s report, the Adaption Subcommittee reported on the UK’s readiness to face the consequences of climate change. This found that the country’s flood defences were still inadequate, and that 45,000 more properties were expected to fall into the highest flood risk category by the 2060s.

It warned that measures to improve the carbon efficiency of homes, such as making them air-tight, might exacerbate the danger of heat exhaustion, especially given the ageing of the UK’s demographic profile.

Photograph: Smog over London (Source: Iain Buchanan/Wikimedia Commons)

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