Last week, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change published its final figures for 2013 greenhouse gas emissions. At first glance, the picture looks encouraging (click for larger images on all charts).
And we appear comfortably ahead of our Kyoto target and the carbon budget intermediary goals established under the Climate Change Act 2008:
Unfortunately, much of the success of the first carbon budget came on the back of the 2008/9 recession. As outlined previously in this blog, carbon emissions are a composite product of population expansion, growth in GDP per head, the energy intensity of GDP and the carbon intensity of energy (this relationship is called the Kaya Identity and is looked at it in more detail here). So when economic growth is slow, greenhouse gas emission growth is slow as well.
To its credit, the 2008 Climate Change Act also established a watchdog called the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), whose remit was to report whether targets were being met. From the July 2014 progress report to parliament on the preliminary 2013 numbers we read this:
Emissions reduction policies suffer from the fact that the low-hanging fruit is aways picked first. If we are lucky, technology will make some of the higher growing fruity easier to pick, but we are in no way assured that this will happen. Against this background, the CCC is not confident that the UK can keep the reduction pace through the 3rd and 4th carbon budgets. As things stand, we do not have the policies in place to create a path to get to where we need to go.
And the scale of the challenge can sometimes appear daunting. The 73% reduction in emissions to 2050 required from now onwards will see UK society almost completely decarbonised.
Yet this is what we have to do. To repeat the Churchill quote: “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required”.