Under the UK Climate Change Act, the government is soon to release its latest five-yearly plan for cutting emissions. But if it is really to work, the government needs to commit to regularly appraise progress against this plan, and to refine it as necessary. Otherwise, this crucial roadmap for the UK’s decarbonisation will not stand the test of time.
I wrote last week that there were “worrying signals” that quarterly progress reports, established by the coalition government to keep track of progress under the last (2011) Carbon Plan, would not be re-started with the release of that plan’s successor, the Emissions Reduction Plan, expected soon.
Those concerns appear to have been borne out.
Nick Hurd, the Climate Change Minister, all-but-admitted as much this week in his answer to a question by Barry Gardiner MP. This would mean that, in one respect at least, the government will be providing a lower level of accountability than in the past.
The quarterly reports were established in 2011, to allow for oversight and accountability of how government departments were progressing against implementation milestones in the Carbon Plan. Our report has highlighted how it is the failure of this kind of mechanism (in this case, the reports were shelved in 2012) that has allowed progress under the Climate Change Act to veer off course as the Carbon Plan has become obsolete.
If the government truly wants to see its new emissions reduction plan succeed, it needs to learn the lessons of the past and ensure progress is frequently and publicly accounted for.
Nick Hurd’s answer to Mr Gardiner’s question suggests the government intends, going forward, to do the bare minimum necessary to meet its legal obligations under the Act. Cutting corners may appear attractive but ClientEarth believes it represents a false economy that could lead, ultimately, to the most serious breach of the Act: missing our emissions targets.
We believe government still subscribes to the underlying philosophy of the Act, as expressed in the Carbon Plan: “Ensuring delivery of the emissions reductions necessary to deliver carbon budgets requires a robust framework to track progress and flag when issues or policy changes mean that we risk going off track.” But weakening that framework after five years of lax scrutiny and faltering progress is no way to show it.
If quarterly reports are not going to inject into the Climate Change Act the accountability and transparency that is needed, we call on the government to institute a robust mechanism that will. The success of the Emissions Reduction Plan depends upon it.