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ClientEarth Communications

24th February 2017

Climate accountability
UK Climate Change Act

Is June the new timeline for delayed UK emissions reduction plan?

The government’s new Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) – or is it now the “Clean Growth Plan”? – is overdue, and getting more overdue by the month. Today’s news suggests we could be waiting until June.

Until it is published, UK progress in cutting carbon emissions will continue to suffer.

The Climate Change Act is best known for its carbon budgets; emissions targets that chart a course to an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels).

But the Act also requires that government plan in advance how those targets will be met. Long-term planning is necessary for a smooth energy transition that provides certainty to investors. An emissions-cutting plan that is clear, transparent and up-to-date allows government to be held accountable for progress so any problems can be addressed early. We are worried that the government may cut corners in this plan, storing up problems for the future.

But there is now increasing concern over something else: Delay.

According to the Climate Change Act, new plans must be produced “as soon as is reasonably practicable” after each carbon budget is set, to show in detail how that new carbon budget (and those already set) will be met.

The fifth carbon budget (requiring a reduction in emissions of 57% by 2030) was agreed in June 2016. But as for the new plan – the ERP – we’re still waiting.

When is late too late?

Only a court could say for sure whether a nine-month wait – or longer, as now seems inevitable – really is a breach of the government’s duty to produce its emissions-cutting plan “as soon as is reasonably practicable”.

But concern is growing. And what we can say is this:

  • Businesses and investors are crying out for greater clarity over the government’s intended decarbonisation course. Policy uncertainty has seen investor confidence in UK renewables fall persistently in recent years. For the sake of the UK’s burgeoning green economy, time is of the essence.
  • The previous plan came out six months after the fourth carbon budget was set, in 2011. That timeframe was not queried. This time around, government was working to the same established schedule – to release the plan at the end of 2016. We are past that now.
  • The deadline has slipped, from 2016…
    – to February 2017;
    – to March (“Q1”) 2017;
    – to “during 2017”. (in the government’s Industrial Strategy).
    – to “more like June” 2017
  • As we described in our recent report on the need to revive the Climate Change Act, the 2011 plan failed to do what it was legally required to do: set out a single intended policy path to meet the fourth carbon budget. The resulting “policy gap” has persisted ever since. So we have been waiting more than five years for a plan fit for meeting the fourth carbon budget. That is a long, long way past “as soon as is reasonably practicable”.

The delays we are seeing now may be due partly to such past neglect. It is to be applauded if the government wishes to “get this right” and put things on a firm footing for the long term. But the legal duty to produce the new plan as soon as possible remains. And the clock is ticking.