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UK floods highlight the importance of carbon budgets – CCC

While politicians debate a long-term plan to tackle climate change in Paris, residents of Kendall, Keswick and Cockermouth in Northern England have begun to clear the damage inflicted by severe flooding, again, following record rainstorms. Meanwhile, the government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published its latest advice on cutting carbon emissions in order to limit climate change, in the form of its Fifth Carbon Budget of allowable emissions for the period 2028–2032.


Despite what it calls good progress to date, the CCC has called for a number of new policies and clear long-term signals to investors in order to keep within the emissions limits set by carbon budgets, and to stay on track to reduce UK emissions by at least 80% by 2050 on 1990 levels.


Following the floods, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, made the link between measures to cut carbon emissions and peak weather events: ‘The devastating flooding this weekend is a timely reminder that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of severe flooding across the UK. Rainfall records have been broken again, with more than a foot of rain falling in 24 hours in some areas. Cumbria has suffered a series of severe floods in the last decade, in 2005 and again in 2009.’


‘Defences that might historically have provided protection against a 1 in 100 year flood will, with climate change, provide a much lower level of protection and be overtopped more frequently. The latest projections suggest periods of intense rainfall could increase in frequency by a factor of five this century as global temperatures rise,’ added Deben. However: ‘if the Paris climate change talks make good progress, and warming is limited to no more than 2°C, then with additional flood risk management effort the UK should be able to avoid increasing flood risks and impacts,’ he added.

The government should continue on the lowest-cost path towards the legal requirement to reduce UK emissions by at least 80% in 2050 on 1990 levels, and should commit to an emissions reduction of 57% by 2028–2032, said the CCC. The fifth carbon budget marks the half-way point from the first carbon budget period (2008–2012) to 2050. The scientific evidence confirms that, without action to limit warming to the globally agreed level of 2°C, climate change will pose serious risks to the UK and around the world.

The UK has made good progress to date, says the CCC. Emissions have reduced by 36% on 1990 levels and, if current policies are effective, will be down by 43–46% in 2020. However, in order to meet the legislated fourth carbon budget (2023–2027) emissions must fall by 52%. The proposed fifth carbon budget continues along this trajectory – steady emissions reductions equivalent to 2% per year from 1990 to 2014, 3% per year from 2014 to 2030 and 4% per year from 2030 to 2050.

New policies and clear long-term signals to investors are urgently required, says the CCC. The Committee’s scenarios to meet the fifth carbon budget involve, by the 2030s:

  • around one in seven UK homes will be heated using low carbon sources of energy;
  • the majority of new cars and vans bought in the UK will be fully or partially electric;
  • the UK will be largely powered by low carbon sources of electricity, delivering power with emissions of below 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kWh (compared to 450 g/kWh today); and
  • insulation has been installed in nearly all UK homes where it is cost-effective.

The Committee says its advice balances a range of statutory duties required by the Climate Change Act, including: ensuring that carbon budgets are affordable; do not adversely affect the UK’s competitiveness; are consistent with energy policy, particularly security of supply; and ensure that potential impacts on fuel poverty are manageable. 

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