Carbon targets – balancing practical reality with ambition
By Anna Livesey
This year has as seen several announcements related to carbon targets. Whilst aspirations (even those enshrined in law) are often welcome, the ability to meet targets, and within specified time frames, will always come into question. Identifying the right path to achieve these targets depends in part on the level of appetite for policy interventions and/or reliance on market mechanisms.
Our nearest neighbours, in France, launched their ambitious climate plan in July which outlined achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. France backed up its approach in September, in its draft 2018 budget, by signalling a tougher trajectory for carbon taxes on fossil fuels. From 30.50 euros per tonne in 2017 to 65.40 euros in 2020 and 86.20 euros per tonne by 2022. The previous trajectory was set at just 56 euros in 2020 and 100 euros in 2030 (no price for 2030 was mentioned in the recent budget). The tougher approach signals a recognition that this type of measure is needed to achieve required carbon reductions and to fund efforts to increase France’s share of renewables and replace fossil fuels (the tax will be used to pay for renewables and to payback a debt to EDF). However, concerns have been raised regarding some exemptions; including in transport such as trucking and taxi companies.
Within the UK, Scotland has sent the clearest signal on ambitions for carbon targets. Proposing to increase targets from 80% to 90% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Alongside this Scottish Government launched a consultation on the draft Climate Change plan, seeking feedback on the new proposed measures and approaches to meeting them. Like in France, whilst the overall desire to be a champion on such issues was welcomed, experts raised concerns about the ability to meet the targets. In a report, the government advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) highlighted Scotland’s achievements in meeting targets thus far, but raised concerns about the lack of new policies to deliver the increased target. Without which, it is suggested, progress seen in recent years is unlikely to continue. Bringing the credibility of a 90% target into question.
The UK’s overall target is to reduce emissions levels by 80% against 1990 figures, progress towards which is measured by carbon budgets. As such, the UK targets may look weak next to France and Scotland and there is a case to be more ambitious. One group, Plan B, has suggested taking the UK government to court if it does not ramp up its climate ambitions.  However, according to the CCC, we have met the first carbon budget and are on track to meet our second and third budgets, but not our fourth and fifth. Therefore, the opposing argument is that we must focus on delivering robust, long-term policy which can set us on a pathway to achieve current targets before we attempt to increase our efforts.
In either scenario, my feeling is there are some key actions which can support to achieve this:
- Engagement – understanding the views of those delivering low carbon technologies, from manufacturers to installers and to the consumers who use them, supports better policy development.
- Long-term approach – short-term policy or frequent changes make it difficult for industry to invest, clear long-term signals are preferred.
- Combined policy approaches – a combination of funding for innovative technologies, regulation and incentives is often more effective than one type of policy approach.
- Enabling the market to develop itself – the combination of long-term policy support, good regulation, and adequate incentives, should allow low carbon technologies to develop a self-sustaining market.
Of course, this list is not conclusive, there are many factors which can support low carbon growth. But these are some of the elements that can drive up our ability to meet exisiting carbon targets and continually increase our ambitions.
Contact the author: Anna Livesey