Little known to the voting public, Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems have all signed up to legally binding five-year plans, known as ‘carbon budgets’, which stipulate a “detailed programme to re-engineer society to cut emissions by a specific amount”, writes Allister Heath in the Telegraph. And any deviation could be open to legal challenge, meaning Governments have almost zero leeway to delay or cancel extreme measures like bans on boilers and petrol cars, no matter how unpopular or impoverishing.
Did you know, dear reader, that we are now on our fourth such carbon budget, valid from 2023 to 2027? Did you realise that the next two – up until 2037 – have already been enshrined in law, making a mockery of the next two or even three general elections? Were you aware that all of the consumer-facing changes – in 18 months, no newly built home will be fitted with a gas boiler, in seven years’ time, it will be illegal to buy new petrol cars, in 12 years, you will no longer be allowed to replace your existing boiler like-for-like – have been accounted for in the plans, gravely limiting room for political manoeuvre? Did you realise that any significant deviation from these carbon budgets could trigger legal action from pressure groups?
As Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband pushed through the Climate Change Act in 2008, committing to cut emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, with the support of all but five MPs. It was the equivalent of another Maastricht Treaty, a huge shift that will, in time, trigger a furious reaction from the electorate when it realises that it is no longer in control. It was apposite that, in 2019, Theresa May, fresh from sabotaging Brexit, amended the Climate Change Act by statutory instrument, increasing the target to a 100% cut in emissions by 2050.
That distant date has lulled many into a false sense of flexibility. Why can’t we delay the ban on combustion engines to 2035 or even later, naïve souls ask, and still meet Net Zero on time? The reality is that it could well be unlawful because cuts to emissions must be phased in according to a strict timetable.
The Government is obliged to set binding, five-year carbon budgets that cap the maximum amount of emissions allowed during each period; each budget is much tougher than the previous one. Meeting them is no joke: they need to be legislated 12 years in advance and be accompanied by credible policies to deliver them in full. Miliband’s Act created the Climate Change Committee (CCC), a ridiculously influential quango which advises the Government on the level of each budget and how much of a contribution each sector should make.
Through a combination of a recession, continued deindustrialisation, insufficient house and infrastructure building and the shift towards renewable energy, the UK met its first (2008- 2012), second (2013-2017) and third (2018-2022) carbon budgets without needing to try too hard. We are now into our fourth budget, requiring a 52% fall in emissions compared with 1990; this, too, could be manageable, partly because of stronger than expected sales of electric cars. But the pain is starting, and the backlash – from landlords, from motorists – is beginning.
Real, Brexit-intensity political warfare will undoubtedly break out ahead of the fifth budget (2028-2032) and especially sixth (2033-37), which will include aviation and shipping, coincide with the ban on new petrol cars and all new gas boilers, a massive, hugely costly insulation drive and require a cumulative 77% cut in emissions.
The Government has very little leeway if it wishes to continue to accept the strictures of the Climate Change Act.
Worth reading in full.