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More ambition, more urgency: CCC delivers Clean Growth Strategy verdict

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The UK government must issue firmer, more ambitious decarbonisation policies as a “matter of urgency” if it is to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

That is the view of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s independent climate watchdog, in its formal response to last year’s Clean Growth Strategy (CGS).

Published today, the CCC’s response takes the government to task on a strategy which it says not only lacks the required substance in specific policies but also the ambition to meet the statutory targets established within the budgets.

The CGS, finally published in October after more than a year of delays, outlined a range of policies and proposals designed to guide the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. However those efforts fall short, with the CCC revealing today that it estimates the country will fail to meet its targets by between 10 – 65 MtCO2e, a “significant margin”, it says.

And that underperformance is given even starker context given that it uses the assumption that all of the government’s policies deliver in full. Any under-delivery, such as Hinkley coming onstream later than expected or existing clean energy policies producing less than forecast, will therefore result in an even greater gap.

As a result the committee has recommended the government act urgently on the matter, delivering further work in three key areas, including;

  • Firming up policies and proposals in the Clean Growth Strategy

This particularly relates to proposals in the fields of domestic energy efficiency, new building standards and the conventional petrol and diesel vehicle phase out, which CCC chair Lord Deben has said does not go far enough.

  • Developing and implementing new policies to close the gap in emissions

Particular risks surround the fourth carbon budget due to “insufficient” plans currently in place and the short lead time. The fourth carbon budget delivery period starts in just five years’ time, with the CCC stating that time has “already been lost” through delays to the process.

  • Addressing the risk of under-delivery

The government has so far failed to produce contingency plans or a plan to outperform carbon budgets to mitigate such risks, as recommended by the committee. Lord Deben has said such under-delivery could come from a wide range of areas and not just one field such as electricity generation. 

Policies and proposals

Speaking at a press briefing ahead of the report’s launch, Lord Deben said that the CGS marked a “fundamental difference” from previous circumstances with climate issues brought to the forefront of wider economic and growth-focused policy.

“But that doesn't mean to say there isn't a very great deal more to do,” he warned.

While several new policies and commitments were brought forward in the Clean Growth Strategy, the CCC has criticised them for not being “firm enough” yet. These include the proposed phase out of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 and new routes to market for renewable technologies.

The CCC has welcomed the ambition of the new commitments but criticised them for a lack of detail. But perhaps of further concern for the committee is that even if the proposals are interpreted “generously” and delivered in full, there would still be gaps in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

The power question

The report reminds the government of its intent to decarbonise the power sector to levels below 100gCO2/kWh by 2030. While committed funding to further Contracts for Difference rounds has been welcomed, this again does not go far enough and the CCC has called for further commitments.

"The government not only has to put flesh on the bones of things it's in general promising, but it also has to come up with some other policies which will finally close that gap,” Lord Deben said.

These must include a route to market for low-carbon electricity generation at lowest cost, with the CCC calling for onshore wind and solar PV to be brought back into the fold. Both technologies have been excluded from the previous two rounds and while BEIS has recently said no decision has been made following further rounds, there has been no indication that established pot one technologies would be welcomed into forthcoming competitions.

But this could be complicated further by continuing cost reductions in offshore wind. Last year’s auction saw the technology come in as cheap as £57.50/MWh for the 2022/23 delivery year, far cheaper than expected. Those results raise the prospect of offshore wind becoming regarded as a pot one technology alongside onshore wind and solar PV in the not too distant future, something which acting head of carbon budgets David Joffe told Clean Energy News was likely to occur.

CEN raised the issue of further auctions for the cheapest possible renewables, to which Lord Deben said it was not the committee’s duty to advise on specific policies. “It's not for me to lay down precisely what to do, what we have had to lay down is an important issue which is that the argument that we don't need any more is, in our view, not true, and that we do need a programme for more,” he said.

The government has also been called on to introduce a progress monitoring and contingency scheme to identify any possible under-delivery or delivery risk, specifically to monitor the development of new nuclear and interconnectors. With Hinkley infamously delayed and over budget, there have been calls for government to come forward with a plan B should the project be further delayed or fall through. 

“No question” over use of flexibilities

“Let us be absolutely clear, there is no question of using the banking"

The CCC has too aired further concerns over the prospective use of flexibility mechanisms – carrying over prior outperformance or purchasing clean power certificates from other nations – echoing previous warnings from committee chair Lord Deben.

The report argues that these should only be used in the case of “unexpected conditions” that would result in budgets being missed and should not, under any circumstances, be used to weaken ambition. The CCC has pointedly referred to the UK’s leadership on climate change issues, questioning how that status could be preserved if it is prepared to lower ambition in such a way.

Lord Deben followed up on his previous comments by stressing there was “no question” over the purported use of flexibilities.

“Let us be absolutely clear, there is no question of using the banking. These budgets are written on the basis that all of them will be met by what we do at home and actually do.

“We have to give advice on whether circumstances are so extraordinary that the flexibility can be used, but I have to say I can see no circumstances in which we would give that advice unless they are what the act says; very extraordinary. We've made that very clear,” he said. 

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