Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A More Stringent UK Emission Reduction Target

9 October 2008

A response to the Climate Change Committee interim advice to the government this week that the UK should adopt a more ambitious target of an 80% reduction in emissions. It welcomes the advice, and suggests the ultimate need for cumulative targets, reinforces the need to decarbonise the power sector and questions undue or exclusive reliance on markets to achieve emissions objectives.

We welcome this advice wholeheartedly and in particular endorse the recommendations of a more ambitious target, that the emission reduction targets should in principle cover aviation and shipping, and that they should in principle be expressed in terms that cover other greenhouse gases. We argued strongly for these measures in our response of December 2006 to the Stern review, and in subsequent papers, as well as in the individual evidence to parliamentary committees from members of the group.

There are a number of implications that we believe follow from the Committee's advice.

The logic of the climate science suggests that, ultimately, targets need to be formulated in terms of targets for cumulative emissions, as the true objective of policy. It is cumulative CO2 emissions that impact on climate and this implies that significantly higher environmental and economic value attaches to early sustained reduction in emissions. Moreover, for any given percentage reduction, an early rather than late reduction profile, if adopted globally, would give substantially lower concentrations in 2050. Demonstration of the fact that there is a significant front end loading to the profile of the social cost of CO2 emissions is easily demonstrable. [See a recent note on the social cost of carbon. ] Working with cumulative emissions would exert a discipline and immediacy on current policy and inhibit the postponement of necessary actions or reliance on hypothetical future measures.

For an equivalent pace of CO2 reduction, an 80% target requires much more substantial measures to be taken even in comparison to an already demanding 60% target. The advice recognises that systemic change needs to be achieved in all main sectors responsible for emissions, and should be taken to imply early and sustained programmes of action across the board.

The higher target puts even more pressure on the power sector to become virtually carbon-free by not much later than 2030. This is recognised implicitly in the interim advice, and closely reflects the conclusions of our earlier analysis of time paths for CO2 reduction. (Shaping carbon budgets)

The pace and nature of the changes required caution against excessive reliance on a market based approach and market mechanisms. A recent paper reviews the extent to which the UK electricity market is "fit for purpose" in this respect. [Will Markets Deliver Low Carbon Power Generation?]

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