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ClientEarth Communications

11th January 2017

Climate accountability
UK Climate Change Act

Government noises on delayed climate plan leave questions unanswered

The UK is still waiting for its next carbon-cutting plan. Government has so far failed to reassure.

This week, Climate Change Minister Nick Hurd reaffirmed the government’s commitment to its targets under the Climate Change Act. But the acid test, as he acknowledged, will be the ambition and credibility of the government’s new Emissions Reduction Plan, originally due in 2016 but now promised before the end of March.

The minister gave some indication of what the Plan might include in terms of policy direction. However there is still precious little hint of whether ClientEarth’s recommendations on the form and ambition of the Plan – as set out in a detailed report published late last year – will be acted on. The signs are not encouraging.

The Climate Change Act requires a single, intended path to be set out to meet both the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (covering the period 2023 – 2032). We at ClientEarth have previously expressed concern that the government may be considering a range of alternative “options” to meet future carbon budgets.

The minister’s comments to the House of Commons BEIS Committee this week shone little new light on this question. The meeting did though raise the key issue of transparency under the Climate Change Act. Our report highlighted how the lack of clear and timely information about the impact of policy decisions on meeting carbon budgets has made it hard to hold the government to account, and allowed underlying progress towards cutting emissions to stall.

Iain Wright MP, the Committee Chair, asked the Minister: “If I’m a member of the public, or indeed … if I’m a Member of Parliament, can I log on and see perhaps in real time how we’re doing in terms of emissions reductions?”

“We’re not quite as agile as you’re suggesting”, replied the Minister, “which is food for thought”.

This lack of agility is a real weakness in a system which relies upon engaged political scrutiny. ClientEarth has called for a ‘Carbon Budget Transparency Platform’ to help bring progress closer to the public.

Let us hope this is a question the government really are chewing on. Reform here is all-the-more necessary if, as also appeared to be signalled, the government is not minded to re-start the quarterly progress reports that were established – then quietly shelved – by the coalition government.

This is a worrying sign. Emissions targets do not meet themselves, and frequent evaluation of progress is key. Annual updates are not enough.

UK climate plan should be a government-wide priority

In other respects, government thinking remains opaque. We still don’t know what body or mechanism is in place to co-ordinate climate change thinking across government following the demise of the National Emissions Target Board.

Nor do we know whether the new Plan, once published, will be updated annually to stop it becoming quickly obsolete like its predecessor.

The new Emissions Reduction Plan could make or break the coming five years of UK action on climate change. In this context, five years is a very long time. The government is so far keeping its hand close to its chest. It seems we may have to wait a little longer to see whether it is bluffing.

Read ClientEarth’s analysis: Mind the gap: Reviving the Climate Change Act