UK Climate Change Policies, or How Are We Going to Achieve an 80% Cut in Emissions?

A member of the Policy Team today attended a very interesting set of talks by David Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), and Jonathan Brearley, Director of the Office of Climate Change.

Dr. Kennedy spoke first, highlighting the Committee’s work on the UK’s Carbon Budgets. There are actually two budgets- an ‘Interim Budget’, to be applied before there is a global deal, which calls for a 34% cut in emission below 1990 levels by 2020, and the ‘Intended Budget’, which will be applied once a global deal is achieved and calls for 42% cuts by 2020.

Of particular interest was his views on how the Committee believes all these ambitious targets can actually be achieved. Their research suggests that the power generation sector offers the biggest potential emission cuts (50 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxode by 2020), followed by residential buildings (32 Mt), transport (30Mt), non-residential buildings and industry (17 Mt) and agriculture (11Mt). This adds up to a total of 140 Mt i.e. enough to meet the Interim budget cuts of 34%.

He also argued that the energy policymakers’ nightmare- the ‘rebound effect’- had been taken into account in these projections. This effect is one of the most serious uncertainties and potential flaws in energy efficiency policy; it describes how both the public and industry are prone to spend any money saved by improved energy efficiency on other things, thereby increasing consumption and boosting the carbon emissions of other sectors. Whilst this effect has been clearly observed before, its scale is very hard to predict- an illustration of the enormous complexity involved in climate change mitigation policy.

Jonathan Brearley meanwhile spoke about the difficulties of getting the public to improve household energy efficiency, reminding the audience that despite the fact that policymakers have been trying to encourage this for over thirty years, people simply aren’t making the household investments required. He suggested three barriers to change- i) a lack of information, ii) the hassle of having insulation etc. work done, and iii) the upfront costs of investment/capital constraints. Hassle was identified as a particularly major problem, with Jonathan noting that Government would have to provide some major incentives to encourage change in this area.

All in all, an optimistic meeting with talks from two obviously very thoughtful men. The difficulty of communicating this policy complexity and thoughtfulness was clear however- David Kennedy attracted all sorts of negative attention last week, including being pilloried on Have I Got News For You, for his comment that he was giving up doner kebabs as part of an effort to rebalance his diet and reduce the carbon footprint of his food intake.