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ClientEarth Communications

13th April 2016

Climate accountability
UK Climate Change Act

Government refuses to fix UK climate law’s fatal flaw

The UK Energy Bill will not fix a major problem with the way we measure our carbon emissions, it was revealed yesterday. During a debate in the Lords, the government refused to mend a crucial issue with carbon accounting, fundamentally undermining the UK’s ability to reduce emissions in line with its long-term targets.

The UK relies on carbon budgets as a framework for reducing its emissions. But the law currently allows the UK to count half of its carbon emissions and systematically ignore the rest – including, notably, those from the entire power industry.

The UK has now committed to reach ‘net zero carbon’ and this ambition has been warmly welcomed. But this goal is undermined by the accounting trick in the law. To remain true to its promises, and cut carbon emissions in real terms, the government must close this loophole.

Cutting carbon – is the government all talk?

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have worked closely with Sandbag, supported by several other NGOs, to draw attention to this shortfall in UK climate law and to draft and support possible amendments to the Energy Bill that would address it.

These moves have been repeatedly rebuffed, both in the Commons and now in the Lords. The government acknowledged issues with the current approach, but claimed that now was not the right time to solve them. In the Lords, amendments committing to a simple review of the loophole – on a more leisurely timescale – were rejected.

Climate and Energy Lawyer Jonathan Church said:

“Yesterday, the UK government had the chance to close a little-known but gaping loophole in the Climate Change Act – but they did not take it. That the government refused to do so – or even to commit to reviewing the question – is deeply worrying.

“There is a fault in the way we count our carbon emissions. This accounting loophole undermines our efforts to decarbonise, and risks the integrity of the Climate Change Act as a whole.

“The UK’s Climate Change Act is respected worldwide, but we will lose that respect – and lag behind on decarbonisation – if we refuse to count our carbon emissions correctly and transparently.

“This refusal to make the necessary amendments casts doubt on whether the government is serious about living up to the promises it made in Paris.”