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Ministers agree to use flexibilities to meet future carbon budgets, reports suggest

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The UK government is prepared to use historic over-performance in emissions reductions to meet future targets, reports have suggested, in a move which is likely to attract considerable criticism.

The Financial Times has today reported that cabinet ministers have decided to “fiddle” national climate targets and use the country’s over-performance in the second and third climate budgets to meet future targets.

The reports suggest the move was first proposed by chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond and signed off by energy secretary Greg Clark. Such an action would require a decision to be made under Section 17 of the Climate Change Acts, which effectively gives the energy secretary powers to retroactively change previous carbon budgets to reduce future budgets.

Those powers are however limited. The amount carried back cannot exceed 1% of the carbon budget for the forthcoming period, and any decision cannot be made any later than 31 May of the second year after the end of the previous two budgetary periods affected, which for the second and third carbon budgets, would have been last Friday.

Current± has contacted the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ask if a decision has been taken under Section 17, however no specific confirmation has been forthcoming at the time of publication.

In a response to Current±, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not comment specifically on whether or it had taken a decision under Section 17, but did state: “We are working closely with the Committee on Climate Change on how we best deliver against our world-leading carbon targets, including how we deal with technical changes in the way we account for carbon emissions.”

In response to the story, Chris Stark, chief executive at the Committee on Climate Change, confirmed the government’s climate watchdog had received no official announcement as to whether a decision had been taken.

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But the CCC has previously been unequivocal in its warning to government over the use of so-called ‘flexibilities’. In February this year CCC chair Lord Deben wrote to energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry to reiterate his committee’s advice that over-performance should not be carried over.

Flexibilities have remained on the table despite continued criticism. Last March BEIS’ deputy director of clean growth and carbon budgets insisted that they remained “on the table” when questioned on the matter by Current±.

Agreeing to use flexibilities would also be at odds with the government legislating for a net zero carbon target, as proposed by the CCC, as agreeing to pursue such a target would require more ambitious emissions reductions than previously agreed under the Climate Change Act.

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