The committee asked whether the Bill’s targets to cut CO2 emissions by 26-32% by 2020 and 60% by 2050 from 1990 levels should be tougher in light of the Stern review and reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But the government’s Office of Climate Change (OCC) claimed they were "extremely ambitious" compared with those of many other countries and represented a consensus that included "business groups".
The OCC’s Robin Mortimer hinted at government fears that unilaterally setting higher targets could weaken the UK’s competitiveness. "The question is whether the UK should be putting an even more ambitious offer on the table at the start or… waiting to develop that in the context of multilateral talks."
But Ruth Davis, head of climate change at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said such talks and the Bill’s targets should be based on the UK’s equitable share of global CO2 emission cuts needed to keep temperature increases below 2°C .
Keith Allott, WWF’s head of climate change, warned that if the UK leaves the introduction of tougher targets too long and allows carbon credits for overseas projects too big a role, achieving anything higher will become impossible.
"There is a real danger in the government’s approach of lock-in through high-carbon investment, partly because the short-term targets are not ambitious enough. That would be reinforced by open-ended access in terms of imported credits," he said
To achieve an 80% cut by 2050, said Ms Davis, the 2020 target should be "slightly higher" than the proposed 26-32% target. She said the Bill should include provisions to allow the 2020 target to be increased to whatever is agreed. "It seems perverse to embed a target which sets us on the wrong trajectory… We can use the best science now."
The Energy Saving Trust agreed. Brian Samuel, head of policy research, said 26% was "somewhat low, and we would certainly prefer to see the target at the top end of the 32% reduction".
Environmental groups want the Bill to introduce three-yearly rather than five-yearly carbon budgets so responsibility for meeting limits cannot be passed between governments. The government argues that five-yearly budgets would fit nicely with the phases of the EU emissions trading scheme, while NGOs say a three-yearly cycle would match the periods of the comprehensive spending review.
NGOs also want annual tracking and reporting of progress, said Mr Allott. "It is a vital principle for us that there should be very strong annual milestones which could be used… to assess and check that policies are delivering."
Ms Davis said carbon budgets should be divided into sectoral budgets, otherwise there would be a danger that the UK would continue to meet short-term targets by focusing heavily on the power generation sector and by trading internationally in credits. "Without some action, particularly in the transport sector, there is no way that we can get to 80%," she said.
The government must "identify clearly a role in each budget period for the major emitting sectors… and make sure that departments and secretaries of state have responsibility for delivering that," she said.
Mr Allott said the government should report carbon emissions on both a net and gross of trading basis. If actual emissions remained stable or rose while reported emissions "fell" because of trading, this would show that the UK was "getting locked into high carbon investment". He also called for a limit on the use of credits.
The OCC’s Robin Mortimer said shipping and aviation had to be excluded from the Bill because there is no agreement on how to calculate emissions and allocate them between countries. But Mr Allott said outbound flights should be included from the outset on the basis of fuel use.
Ms Davis said aviation should not be singled out, but criticised the government for failing to show that sufficient emission cuts could be made elsewhere to compensate for the sector’s projected growth.