The UK Government has been accused by its official climate change advisory panel of failing to deliver meaningful cuts to carbon emissions.
In its latest progress report to Parliament, the independent Committee on Climate Change warns Ministers to stop talking about tackling emissions and start taking action.
And campaigners have reacted by accusing the Government of allowing the pioneering Climate Change Act to now “wither by neglect”.
The CCC, the statutory body set up to advise Ministers on setting carbon budgets, points out that despite greenhouse gas emissions falling by 7% in 2011, only 0.8% of this can be linked directly to proactive carbon lowering measures.
And the group's report points out that this rate of underlying progress will be 75% short of the necessary action to meet future carbon budgets meaning the pace of measures to reduce emissions now needs to increase fourfold.
The official report calls on the Government to now move from planning to actually delivering change.
In a statement, David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee said: “Much of last year’s fall in emissions was due to a combination of mild weather, rising fuel prices, falling incomes and transitory factors in power generation.
“But as the economy recovers it will be difficult to keep the country on track to meet carbon budgets. We need to tackle major challenges to drive emissions down across the economy – and to do this as a matter of urgency.
“There are some good initiatives in the pipeline, but more is needed to improve the investment climate, and put in place incentives so that people and businesses can act. Key policies require further clarification, and gaps in the policy framework need to be addressed.
“Investing in low carbon assets remains a priority – this will put us on the economically sensible path, and allow us to avoid higher costs and risks due to delayed action”
The report highlights the remaining challenges across the key emitting sectors:
• Lack of investment in renewable energy and low carbon power technologies. The report highlights there has been only a third of the annual investment required in onshore and offshore wind by the end of the decade. It describes how some progress towards new nuclear build has been made but investment prospects still remain uncertain. And, it points out, there has been slippage in the demonstration programme for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
It recommends the Electricity Market reform needs a clear carbon objective, and resolution of detailed design issues, to encourage investor confidence. It warns the Government to rule out a second dash for Gas. It says it is crucial that the programme to fund CCS demonstration proceeds urgently, with projects selected by the end of 2012 and contracts signed by the end of 2013. Within this, there should be at least one gas CCS project. But in general, until CCS is proven, the medium term role for gas should be to provide back-up.
• Energy Efficiency and Renewable Heat in homes and workplaces – today's CCC report claims that despite good progress on loft and cavity wall insulation, there remain around 7 million lofts and between 6 and 7 million cavity walls to insulate and progress on solid wall insulation has been limited to date. It says investment in residential renewable heat remains very low.
The report recommends that incentives should be strengthened to increase delivery rates under the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation and new arrangements are needed to support uptake of renewable heat in the residential sector. This should include extending the Renewable Heat Incentive, providing finance to cover up-front investment costs and addressing market barriers such as households lacking information and confidence in renewable heat technologies.
• Cleaner transport and travel – the report points out that emissions from new cars have continued to fall but there has been limited improvement in new van emissions and vehicle miles appear to be on the increase. It confirms that consumer response to electric vehicles remains cautious so continued support from the government is required. There is more to do on changing travel behaviour, where much potential still remains untapped.
The report recommends that there is scope for strengthening policy incentives to encourage reduction of new van emissions. It also suggests the electric vehicle market needs to increase and developments must be closely monitored. The report calls for the decision on company car tax relief for electric vehicles announced at the last budget to be reversed. The CCC also calls on the Government to clarify how it will roll out sustainable travel programmes across the country.
Reacting to publication of the scathing report, the WWF said that the government risked letting the Climate Change Act – a globally significant piece of legislation - “wither by neglect”.
WWF said that, with the UK reaching a critical stage in the implementation of the Act, there was real concern that there had still been no step change or an agreement to move to the more ambitious “intended” carbon budgets recommended by the CCC.
Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: “Around the world more and more countries, including Mexico, Denmark and Australia, are following the UK’s lead and passing climate change laws. Yet at precisely the same time, the UK Government risks allowing this landmark legislation to wither by neglect.
“For the fourth year running, the Committee on Climate Change has made clear that a dramatic step change in ambition is needed, particularly on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Too many key policies – such as the Green Deal, the Green Investment Bank and now the Energy Bill – are hobbled by lack of ambition and poor implementation.
“Without urgent attention – and a much clearer commitment from the Prime Minister down - the claim to be the greenest government ever is looking like an increasingly empty boast.”
WWF said it strongly welcomed the CCC’s call for a 2030 decarbonisation target in the Draft Energy Bill, along with clear action to rule out a second “dash for gas”. The group pointed to strong industry, consumer group, academic and NGO support for a 2030 target, accompanied by much stronger action on energy efficiency.
Keith Allott also said he was concerned that no new chair has yet been appointed to the CCC, and added: “Adair Turner did a good job chairing the committee, and it is worrying that it is taking so long to replace him. His successor - when appointed - has a big task on their hands.”