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Government sets fourth carbon budget of 50% emissions reductions

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne announced to the House of Commons on Tuesday that the Government proposes to set a legal target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2023 to 2027 by 50% over 1990 levels, in line with advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change. The reduction would be the most ambitious legally binding target of any developed country.

Legally binding targets

The limit on emissions will be set under the fourth carbon budget required under the Climate Change Act 2008, which sets unilateral legally binding emissions reduction targets to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy in the UK. The proposal will now be put before Parliament.

The Government will aim to reduce emissions domestically as far as practical and affordable, but will keep open the option of trading to maximise flexibility and minimise costs in the medium-long term. Progress in EU climate negotiations will be reviewed in early 2014 with the option of revising the budget to align it with the EU trajectory if necessary.

The Government intends to set out proposals and policies to meet the fourth carbon budget in October 2011, alongside the Carbon Plan.

Carbon budgets from 2008 to 2027

The levels of the first three carbon budgets, covering five year periods between 2008 and 2022, were approved by Parliament in May 2009. With the proposed fourth budget, the caps on total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK are:

Budget 1
Budget 2
Budget 3
Budget 4
Carbon budget
3018 2782 2544 1950
Reduction on 1990 levels 22% 28% 34% 50%

National and international impact

Announcing the new target, Chris Huhne described the intended impact in the UK and internationally:

“[..] we are demonstrating our desire to drive the changes needed to turn the UK into a dynamic, low carbon economy that is attractive to investors in the new and growing low carbon sectors.

“We are also sending a clear signal to the international community: that the UK is committed to the low carbon economy. This will help us reach agreement in Europe on moving to a 30% emissions reduction target – and build momentum toward a legally binding global climate change deal.”

Wide support

The proposed limit was welcomed by organisations including the CBI, WWF-UK, Greenpeace and the Green Alliance.

Matthew Spencer, director of the Green Alliance, wrote:

“[..] the UK has just distinguished itself as the best place to invest in low carbon technology and infrastructure and to maximise the advantages for British business. It’s a good day for those who want Britain to re-invent itself as the home of high-tech engineering, modern infrastructure and a more resilient economy. It’s a good day for evidence-based policy-making.”

Prime Minister David Cameron also welcomed the proposal:

“When the coalition came together last year, we said we wanted this to be the greenest government ever. This is the right approach for Britain if we are to combat climate change, secure our energy supplies for the long-term and seize the economic opportunities that green industries hold.

“In the past twelve months, we have pursued an ambitious green agenda and today, we are announcing the next, historic step. By making this commitment, we will position the UK a leading player in the global low-carbon economy, creating significant new industries and jobs.

“The transition to a low-carbon economy is necessary, real, and global. By stepping up, showing leadership and competing with the world, the UK can prove that there need not be a tension between green and growth.”

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