Government accused of missing opportunity over climate change as ministers concede UK could still fall short of key emissions targets
The Government has “blown an enormous opportunity” to transform Britain’s record on climate change, critics say, amid a growing backlash over its long-awaited green master plan.
Ministers unveiled their much-delayed clean growth strategy this week, which sets out more than 50 measures to boost energy efficiency and clean power to get the UK on track to meet key emissions targets – which it is currently set to miss by a wide margin.
The blueprint drew criticism from the Government’s own independent climate advisers over its suggestion that “flexibilities” in the law could be used to meet legally binding targets on cutting greenhouse gases.
The Government also faces a threat of legal action as the strategy concedes that the UK may not meet these key targets for the late 2020s and early 2030s, despite wide-ranging measures to cut emissions.
Environmental campaigners raised concern that the strategy was too timid and failed to contain the necessary measures to meet the UK’s own laws on cutting carbon.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas described the plan as a “blueprint for under-achievement” and said it did not to go far enough to promote onshore wind and to curb nuclear power.
She said: “The Government has blown this enormous opportunity to put Britain on track to meet its climate target.
“This should have been a greenprint for the future, but instead this looks like a blueprint for under-achievement.
“This strategy suggests they won’t meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets and, while some of the aspirations in the document certainly move us in the right direction, they don’t go far enough to shift this UK to a zero carbon future.”
Shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead echoed the concern, adding: “This strategy fails in its fundamental task of laying out a pathway for us to reach our legally required climate targets.
“While I welcome many of the new initiatives outlined, I am disappointed to see that the long-awaited strategy falls short in addressing a number of key questions, including – most importantly – how we are going to meet our targets. By the Government’s own calculations, these proposals will put us put us on track to miss both our fourth and fifth carbon budgets.”
Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, the climate change watchdog, said the strategy would kickstart efforts to meet the UK’s carbon targets but rejected its suggestion that “flexibilities” in the Climate Change Act could be used to meet targets.
Activist lawyers ClientEarth, which took the Government to court over failures on air pollution, said the firm was considering legal options as the UK set to miss its emissions reductions target for 2023 to 2027 by 116 million tonnes – equivalent to the Philippines’ annual emissions.
Simon Bullock, Friends of the Earth senior climate campaigner, warned that the UK was still “stuck in a rut” over fossil fuels, transport and airport expansion.
He said: “While the plan has some huge gaps the government is rightly presenting tackling climate change as a massive opportunity for economic rebirth, and for Britain to lead the world.
“But clearly there is far more actual policy needed – the plan does not deliver on UK targets for cutting emissions, let alone the more ambitious Paris climate agreement, and some parts of government are still firmly stuck in a rut of more fossil fuels, roads and runways.”
However Neil Carberry, of the CBI, said the journey towards a low carbon world would offer huge opportunities for the UK economy.
He added: “Following a significant period of uncertainty in the energy sector, businesses need certainty about the plans and policies that will deliver a low-carbon future… (the) long-anticipated Clean Growth Strategy is a welcome step towards clarity, and businesses will be pleased by much of the content.”
A spokesman for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department said: “The Government’s ambitious Clean Growth Strategy keeps us on track to meet our legally binding carbon budgets, while securing the economic and wider benefits of clean growth.
“We should be using our efforts to tackle climate change and make sure Britain continues to benefit from the unstoppable shift towards low carbon technologies.”