883: Climate Change Committee adds to net zero push
Today’s entry reports on the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation for the sixth carbon budget.
Continuing the recent theme of big announcements relating to infrastructure and the road to net zero, the Climate Change Committee has issued its recommendation for a sixth five-year carbon budget to cover the period 2033-2037.
It’s all a bit complicated about what this involves and means, but here goes for an explanation.
The Climate Change Act 2008, given royal assent on the same day as our old friend the Planning Act 2008, originally required greenhouse gas emissions to be at least 80% lower than 1990 levels by 2050, and as of July 2019, now requires them to be at least 100% lower. How can they be more than 100% lower, I hear you ask? It is possible that carbon could be removed from the atmosphere such that together with capturing enough emitted carbon such that the removals exceed the residual emissions, there is a net removal overall, which would be lower than net zero.
To get there, the Act requires the government to set a carbon budget for every five-year period starting with 2008-12, by 30 June twelve years in advance of the start of the period (with an allowance for the early ones that were less than twelve years in the future).
Two milestones are set – first, that the budget for 2018-2022 must be at least 34% lower than the 1990 baseline (it was originally 26% but was raised to 34% less than a year later). Secondly, the budget for 2048-52 must be at least the 2050 target (i.e. originally 80% below and now 100% below). Further milestones can be inserted but I don’t think any have.
In setting the budget the government must have regard to advice from the Climate Change Committee, which must be issued by 31 December the year before it sets it, hence why the committee has just done so, June 2021 being 12 years before the 2033-37 budget will begin.
The first five carbon budgets were duly set, at 3018 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is a 25.4% reduction from the 1990 baseline, 2782 (31.3%), 2544 (37.1%), 1950 (51.8%) and 1725 (57.4%). The word ‘equivalent’ is used because other gases are converted into their equivalent of CO2, but about 75-80% is CO2 itself). Remember all those were when we were trying to reach an 80% cut by 2050.
I think those periods were chosen so that the middle year is each year ending in 5 or 0, which ought to match the percentage cut from 1990 levels on its own if the graph is reasonably smooth.
The committee has now recommended a 78% cut from 1990 levels for the sixth budget, which would mean 890 million tonnes across the 2033-37 period, midpoint 2035.
I had a look back to see if the government did what the committee recommended previously. For the fourth budget covering 2023-2027 it recommended 1950, which was taken up. For the fifth budget it recommended 1765 and including international shipping; instead the government reduced it to 1725 and didn’t include international shipping. This time the committee is recommending including international aviation and shipping, we’ll see what the government does.
Finally, I had a look to see how we did in meeting the carbon budgets. We came in 36m tonnes below the first budget, according to this report.
For the second period ending in 2017, there is no report yet, but adding up the five years’ emissions makes 2503m tonnes, which is comfortably 279m below the 2782m tonne target.
The Nationally Determined Contribution I mentioned in the last blog is a feature of the Paris Climate Change agreement rather than the Climate Change Act 2008. That effectively upped the 2028-32 57.4% carbon budget target to 68% to reflect the net zero target that was set subsequently.
2030 is only just over nine years away; serious changes to how transport and home heating and cooking are powered will have to be made in a pretty short time. The carbon impacts of large projects will correspondingly face increasing scrutiny. I think it will be no longer good enough to say ‘there are pathways that reach the targets including this project’ – the project ought to demonstrate a pathway that has a genuine prospect of being achieved.
On the DCO front, the application for the Lower Thames Crossing was withdrawn before the end of the acceptance period.
Two new DCO applications have been made, for the Boston Alternative Energy Project (an energy from waste project in Lincolnshire) and for the Little Crow Solar Park (a 150MW solar and 90MW battery project near Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire).
And finally, the Supreme Court is due to give its judgment on the challenge to the Airports National Policy Statement, ie the policy to have a new runway at Heathrow, on Wednesday 16 December.