The government has been advised to accept the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) fifth carbon budget by the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) committee, which has warned that any attempt to deviate from the plan will be met with scrutiny.

In November 2015 the CCC recommended that the level of fifth carbon budget for the period from 2028 to 2032 should be set at 1,765 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2 e).  This represents a 57% reduction in emissions by 2030 from levels recorded in 1990 and would keep the UK on track to meet an 80% reduction by 2050.

Following an inquiry launched in December last year, the ECC committee has supported this level for the budget, which energy secretary Amber Rudd is required to set by 30 June 2016.

However, the report published yesterday added: “Should the Government deviate from the CCC’s advice on the level of the fifth carbon budget, we will be looking carefully for a robust evidence-base on any alternative level proposed.”

In addition, the global commitments made at COP21 in Paris could also come into play. While the committee agreed with the CCC’s comments in January that its recommendations weresufficient at this time”, it has drawn attention to other comments claiming “a tighter budget may be needed in the future”.

The committee has therefore urged the government to carry out further analyses as to what levels of emissions reduction may be required to contribute to the increased ambition of the Paris Agreement.

Angus MacNeil, chair of the ECC select committee, said: “We can see no basis for downgrading the UK’s ambition to reduce emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Indeed, to meet targets agreed at the Paris climate talks to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, we may in the future need to cut emissions deeper and faster.

In response to the report, Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, said: “Last December, the UK played a commendable role in the success of the Paris climate change agreement, which was signed by over 170 countries just a few days ago. Now is the time to translate international commitments into a new set of national policies to guide cost-effective investment in energy efficient, low carbon transport and clean energy technologies over the next 15 years.

“Adopting the CCC’s fifth carbon budget recommendations, which are based on the minimum levels of emission cuts the UK needs to deliver out to 2032 if it is to meet its long-term targets affordably, is an important part of this.”

MacNeil’s committee report added that in order to meet its commitments, the government will be required to take action “across the board”. This will be led by decarbonisation of the power sector, which the report says would be critical, “not just in the context of electricity generation, but also to decarbonise other sectors such as heat and transport.”

“Decarbonising our power sector is – along with energy efficiency – the most cost-effective way of reducing our emissions. It will also be vital in reducing emissions from the heat sector and from transport, as we electrify our rail network and road vehicles,” MacNeil continued.

“The UK can’t afford any further delays when it comes to replacing dirty power stations with cleaner forms of generation. Investors need certainty and setting a decarbonisation target for the electricity sector would signal the Government’s commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.”

Among other policy gaps previously identified by the CCC and reiterated in this latest report include measures to address the deployment of renewables and low-carbon power generation; the implementation of the coal phase-out; and the deployment of CCS.

It added: “Given the importance of the power sector, not least as electrification of other sectors such as heat and transport becomes more prominent, it is crucial that clear decarbonisation signals are in place. We recommend that the Government set a carbon intensity target of 100 gCO2 /kWh for 2030, in line with the advice from the CCC and as argued for by our predecessor Committee.”

The ECC committee’s recommendations – specifically the need to decarbonise the power sector – have been met with support from the clean energy sector.

Jenny Hogan, director of policy at Scottish Renewables said: “The Committee’s recommendation to set a 2030 decarbonisation target for the electricity sector would provide greater certainty for investors – particularly important at a time when support schemes for green energy generation are being eroded in the UK.”

James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association, added: “The REA supports the recommendations of the Select Committee and of the CCC, while encouraging government to support the use of a widest range of sustainable energy technologies in order to ensure the decarbonisation of multiple energy sectors – including those cost-effective technologies which this government have made drastic moves against, such as solar, onshore wind and biomass, plus the whole renewable heat and transport sectors which are seriously lagging behind our 2020 renewable targets.  

In response to the ECC committee’s recommendations, a DECC spokesperson said: “We are determined to meet our climate change commitments in the most cost-effective way so we can keep bills as low as possible, and have already reduced our emissions by over 30% since 1990.

“We are considering the advice of the CCC and will set the fifth carbon budget in due course.”