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Committee on Climate Change - Second progress report

The Committee on Climate Change has published its second progress report to Parliament. It says that a step change in the pace of underlying emissions reductions is still required if the UK is to meet its legislated carbon budgets - which require at least a 34% cut in emissions by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. Emissions of greenhouse gases have declined over the past year (by 8.6%), but this is almost entirely due to a reduction in economic activity caused by the recession and increased fossil fuel/ energy prices, and is not the result of the implementation of measures to reduce emissions. As the economy returns to growth, the risk is that emissions will increase, and that carbon budgets will not be achieved.  The report also raises the question of whether the Government should move from committing to the Interim to the Intended budget since the costs of achieving this are lower as a result of the recession. The ‘Interim’ budget, to which the Government has signed up, commits the UK to reducing emissions by 34% by 2020. The CCC however also recommended (in its first, 2008 report) that if a global deal on climate was reached at Copenhagen (which it wasn’t) then the UK should commit to a higher cut of 42% - the Intended Budget. In essence the CCC’s latest report suggests that maybe we should do this anyway. See here for the 2008 report. Note that a report produced by the Tyndall Centre for Friends of the Earth in 2009 says that 42% is the minimum required.  Regarding the agricultural sector the report is quite clear that the Government’s approach is cautious, to say the least, and that the voluntary approach is unlikely to deliver the emission cuts needed. The key messages are:

  • Estimated agriculture emissions fell by 1% in 2008 continuing a longer-term trend where emissions fell by 21% over the period since 1990, largely due to less fertiliser use and reduced livestock numbers as a result of CAP reform.
  • The agriculture emissions reduction targeted for England in the Low Carbon Transition Plan appears low relative to underlying maximum potential. It should therefore be regarded as indicative, with the possibility of significant further emissions reductions through soils and livestock measures and manure management/anaerobic digestion. Devolved Administrations should also set targets at least in line with the LCTP ambition and seek to unlock full underlying potential.
  • A range of policies beyond provision of information/encouragement should be seriously considered to address barriers to action. The Government should ensure development of a more robust evidence base which better identifies current farming practice and the emissions impact of changed practice. This would underpin strategic approaches and support new policies to unlock agriculture emissions reduction potential.
  • Given the uncertainties in projecting agriculture emissions, the focus should be on implementation of measures. They propose a draft framework of indicators reflecting key emissions-reducing measures (e.g. farmer uptake) as well as emissions drivers (e.g. livestock numbers, fertiliser usage) for further development

The report points out that the Government’s target as set out in the Low Carbon Transition Plan to reduce agricultural emissions from English agriculture by 3Mt CO2 eq is lower than the government’s own analysis of the mitigation potential (undertaken by ADAS ) and considerably more modest than the analysis that the research done by the Scottish Agricultural College for the CCC. It proposes a framework of indicators for monitoring progress towards agricultural emissions reduction. The indicators fall into the following categories:

  • Emission drivers: fertiliser use, livestock numbers and yields
  • Farming practice: evidence of nutrient management, livestock breeding, anaerobic digestion and manure management
  • Policy milestones: development of agricultural Industry GHG action plan; advisory service, consideration of what measures beyond the voluntary are needed, development of smart inventory (for example methods of quantifying emissions from livestock that reflect differences in feeding practices).

Regarding cuts in agricultural emissions in the longer term it says that there are two sources where significant cuts may potentially be achieved:

  • Supply-side measures (e.g. all on-farm measures described in our revised MACC (nb this is the SAC analysis), together with emerging options in both technology and farm practice).
  • Demand-side changes (e.g. a shift in diets towards less carbon-intensive foods). 

The CCC says it will provide an assessment of scope for supply- and-demand side emissions reductions through the 2020s in the context of its advice on the fourth carbon budget, to be published before the end of 2010. The report is called Meeting Carbon Budgets – ensuring a low-carbon recovery 2nd Progress Report to Parliament Committee on Climate Change June 2010 and is attached below.

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