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The Climate Change Act 2008

Under the Climate Change Act 2008 (the 2008 Act), the Government must set five-yearly carbon budgets, twelve years in advance, from 2008 to 2050.  The Government is required to consider—but not follow—the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC, also created under the 2008 Act) when setting these budgets.  The headline target of the Act was amended in June 2019 to reflect the Government’s net zero ambitions. The aim is to meet the 2008 Act’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

Carbon budgets 1, 2, 3 and 4

The first three budgets are for the following five-year periods: 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22. These budgets were set in May 2009 and implemented via the Carbon Budgets Order 2009. The fourth carbon budget (2023-2027) was set at 1,950 MtCO2e and implemented via the Carbon Budget Order 2011.

Setting the fifth carbon budget

The CCC’s proposals for the Fifth Carbon Budget were published in November 2015, recommending a budget on a cost-effective path to a then 2050 target of an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels.  The CCC proposed the budget should be set at 1,765 MtCO2e for 2028-2032 (or 1,725 MtCO2e if international shipping emissions were excluded), which would equate to a 57% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels.  The UK Government agreed the fifth Carbon Budget at 1,725 MtCO2e, passing the Carbon Budget Order 2016 in July 2016.

The Government published its Clean Growth Strategy in October 2017, setting out a “possible pathway” for meeting the fifth carbon budget. The CCC’s independent assessment of the Strategy (January 2018) praised the Government’s strong commitment to achieving the UK’s climate targets, but called on the Government to close the gaps it identified in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Furthermore, the CCC’s Progress Report to Parliament in June 2018 called on the Government to bring forward new fully funded policies to ensure the fourth and fifth carbon budget are met.

Progress in meeting carbon budgets

The first carbon budget (2008-2012) was outperformed by one per cent and official statistics indicated that the second budget (2013-2017) was outperformed by around 14%.

The Government’s energy and emissions projections 2018 (published April 2019) predicted that the third carbon budget would be outperformed by around 3% but (taking into account existing and new policies and proposals) predicted a projected shortfall of around 6% and 10% against the fourth and fifth budgets respectively.

In the Clean Growth Strategy, the Government confirmed that it may consider using flexibilities available to it on when and how to reduce UK emissions on route to 2050, but that it would obtain the advice of CCC and consult the devolved Administrations before making a decision. The CCC does not support the use of outperformance being carried over to help meet later budgets.

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