Government rules out using surplus emissions cuts to meet future climate targets

The Government has ruled out effectively loosening future targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as it said it was “doubling down” on its climate commitments.

The UK outperformed on its legal target to cut emissions between 2018 and 2022, known as the third carbon budget, with total emissions 15% less than the maximum allowed.

The Government has now said it will not rollover the surplus to help it meet the emissions targets in the fourth carbon budget, from 2023-2027, saying it was on track to meet the next set of goals.

Carrying forward the surplus would have effectively loosened the fourth carbon budget target by allowing more emissions in the 2023-2027 period.

The decision comes after the Government was warned not to use the surplus by independent statutory advisers, the Climate Change Committee.

The carbon budgets are part of the UK’s long term legal goal under the 2008 Climate Change Act to cut emissions to zero overall, known as net zero, by 2050, to end the country’s contribution to global warming.

But the targets for the 2020s were set when a weaker goal to slash emissions by 80% by 2050 was still in place, and before the UK made international commitments to cut emissions by at least 68% by 2030.

The UK outperformed on its legal target in the third carbon budget largely due to external factors including the pandemic, with total emissions over the period 391 million tonnes less than the maximum allowed.

In a letter to the Government in February the Climate Change Committee warned the UK was not on track for targets to cut emissions by 2030 and beyond, and progress needed to accelerate rapidly.

The committee also warned failing to overperform on the fourth carbon budget would weaken the long term signal the targets set to investors and businesses, potentially making it harder and more expensive to hit net zero.

Energy Security and Net Zero Minister Justin Tomlinson said: ““By deciding not to carry forward our over-performance from the third carbon budget, we are doubling down on our commitment to reach net zero, and we’re already halfway there.

“This will keep the UK at the forefront of global efforts to cut its emissions, but we will do this while also driving down consumer bills.”

Professor Piers Forster, interim chair of the Climate Change Committee, congratulated the Government on its decision, saying “it’s the right choice”.

“It shows an understanding of both the climate science and the very real need to accelerate progress on emissions reduction,” he said.

Prof Forster said the UK had cut its emissions by half since 1990.

“The next big challenge is to hit the UK’s 2030 target, which is to decarbonise by 68% against 1990 levels.

“The Government has made a sensible decision, in line with our advice, not to kick the can down the road.

“Now is the time for more investment in low carbon solutions across the country,” he said.