Chart of the Day, 7 Feb 2015: UK Emissions Progress Good, but Not Good Enough

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).

Emissions of Greenhouse Gases UK jpeg

And we appear comfortably ahead of our Kyoto target and the carbon budget intermediary goals established under the Climate Change Act 2008:

UK Carbon Budget Targets jpeg

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:

CCC 2014 Progress Report jpegEmissions 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.

Planned Policy jpeg

Forth Carbon Budget Policies jpeg

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.

GG Emissions to 2050 jpeg

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”.

3 responses to “Chart of the Day, 7 Feb 2015: UK Emissions Progress Good, but Not Good Enough

  1. Hey, at least you have some kind of goal and strategy to reach it and good progress so far! Terrific!

    You write, “As things stand, we do not have the policies in place to create a path to get to where we need to go”. Can you expand on that a little? I thought there was in fact a detailed plan that extended to dates and mechanisms for decarbonizing electricity and transport.

    • Robert. The Climate Change Act is truly something to be proud of. It was passed almost unanimously in 2008, with support from both left and right. How things have changed. Nonetheless, while there exists a movement to “repeal the Climate Change Act”, it will still prove difficult for even a majority Conservative government to back away from the Act’s goals. Where the wiggle room exists, is in how they set the intermediary goals which are embodied in the 5-year carbon budgets.

      The Climate Change Act goes out to 2050, but the carbon budgets only go out to 2023-27 (the fourth carbon budget) so far. As time passes, you add extra 5-year budgets on, with the idea that they are consistent with the 2050 goal. There are two ways this could all go wrong. First, in exceptional circumstances (rather loosely defined) the goal of a particular carbon budget can be watered down. Second, they just miss the budget.

      You can get an idea of the budgets here:

      Each budget will become more painful than its predecessor. By that I mean, more vested interests have to be confronted, more money spent and more people have to do things in a way that they haven’t done them before. Hopefully, the Act will give ruling parties political cover; i.e., they can say they don’t want to do the things they do, but the Climate Change Act made them. We shall see what happens.

      Still, is a good piece of legislation.

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