Skip to content

Will the UK use a legal loophole to hit government climate targets?

June 4, 2019

By Paul Homewood


From New Scientist:



Rather than taking concrete action on climate change, the UK looks set to use creative accounting to meet its legal obligations to tackle global warming.

The UK has a binding target of reducing emissions 80 per cent by 2050. To get there, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) sets rolling five-year carbon budgets. Between the second of those budgets – 2013-2017 – the UK overperformed and cut by more than needed.

On Tuesday it emerged ministers have controversially agreed to count those historical savings against future targets, which the UK is set to miss.

The move would be legal, as the Climate Change Act, which sets the binding target, permits the use of such ‘flexibilities’. But that does not make it a good idea. The step would be a “clear case of gaming the system”, says Sam Fankhauser of the London School of Economics. “Allowing more emissions in the future instead of making actual progress on cutting emissions is short-term thinking.”

Previous governments thought it was a bad approach. Ed Davey, energy secretary between 2012 and 2015, said it was best to meet the 2050 goal through action, not “statistical loopholes.”

Ministers can’t pretend they haven’t been warned of the dangers of cooking the books. In February the CCC wrote to climate minister Claire Perry, telling her its unequivocal advice for the government was not to carry forward the carbon surplus.

There has been a lot of subsequent wrangling within the government, with progressive figures saying the advice should be accepted, government sources tell New Scientist. But chancellor Phillip Hammond and business secretary Greg Clark have won out, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday, and the UK will count the savings against future targets.

The CCC has made crystal clear why that’s bad. Such accounting would add “unnecessary costs” to meeting the 2050 goal, said John Gummer, the group’s chairman, in his February letter.

It would also be inconsistent with the Paris agreement, the major UN climate deal that nearly 200 countries forged in 2015, he added. That matters. Not just for the goals of the climate accord, but because it could even damage the UK’s bid to host next year’s UN climate summit.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, carrying forward a surplus would also “undermine the integrity” of the UK’s whole framework for cutting carbon, Gummer said.

Counting previous carbon cuts, some of which came about simply because of the 2008 financial crash, is not a good idea when greater ambition is needed. The government is expected to imminently set a target of upgrading the 2050 target to reduce emission to net zero, as the the CCC recently demanded. Getting to net zero means new policies, not accounting tricks.

Finally, using loopholes to meet carbon targets could hurt the UK’s standing on the international stage and its justified claim to leadership on climate change. Counting historical cuts “is absolutely not leadership,” said Gareth Redmond-King of WWF, in a statement.

The government has publicly neither confirmed or denied the move, so it may still not come to pass. But if it does become official, CCC chief executive Chris Stark says he is sure the group will “have a view”.


In my view, this shows just how difficult and costly it is now becoming to cut emissions much further.

As I have noted previously, emission cuts so far have a case of picking the low hanging fruit.

As for Gummer’s ridiculous claim that the decision would add additional costs, it has been the rush to lead from the front which has seen the UK commit to obscenely expensive renewable energy contracts, such as offshore wind (currently costing up to £170/MWh), and Hinkley Point, instead of waiting until costs came down.


It would be nice if the government now had to the guts to tell the CCC where to stuff their Fifth Carbon Budget. But I would be better off howling at the moon!

  1. Metman permalink
    June 4, 2019 6:28 pm

    Politicians being politicians.

  2. June 4, 2019 6:30 pm

    The GWPF is reporting that the FT says that there may be feeble signs of growth in the cohones department:

  3. Teddy permalink
    June 4, 2019 6:39 pm

    What happens if the UK fails to meet a binding target? Does the UK fine itself? Does the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth go to prison? Does the entire UK population get sent to jail? Can we all sue the Government if we feel damaged by the failure to meet the target?
    I think we need to know.

    • Leedschris permalink
      June 4, 2019 7:51 pm

      The answer is that the government can be sued and this is exactly what the green blob will do. The judge can rule the Government has broken the law and demand that the Government remedies matters. There is no fine or imprisonments. In general governments feel obliged, understandably, to obey the courts. A recent example was on clean air, where green groups took the government to court on likely failure to hit EU targets for NO2. This has now resulted in government forcing local councils to introduce road charging for higher NO2 producing vehicles. This is a taster of what will happen going forward.

      • June 4, 2019 8:29 pm

        The SoS can change the target in the CCA at any time he sees fit, as long as the evidence has changed – which it has as there is no scientific evidence for man-made climate change,

  4. charles wardrop permalink
    June 4, 2019 6:59 pm

    No point in the UK’s costly decarbonisation or observing targets, since greenhouse gases released from the UK are trivial, 1.3% of the global total.
    Do those in political and scientific charge know or care?
    The politician I have heard making that point is Nigel Farage.

    • June 5, 2019 9:39 am

      Temperature is not dependent on atmospheric CO2 levels anyway, but that’s another story. As PH points out CO2 is nothing to do with atmospheric pollution, despite the brainwashing attempts of the media.

  5. Leedschris permalink
    June 4, 2019 7:21 pm

    We really do need to ‘drain the swamp’ …starting with the climate change committee!

    • George Lawson permalink
      June 5, 2019 9:04 am

      Absolutely. But when a decision by these people in the interests of the nation, might effect their own back pockets and their private bank balance then the nation can go to hell.

  6. June 4, 2019 8:18 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate- Science.

  7. June 4, 2019 8:33 pm

    The CCA should never have been passed, or it should have been repealed years ago, since it is not based on any scientific evidence. All we have is policy-based evidence – i.e. it is based on fake data and unvalidated computer models which cannot calculate future states of the climate.

  8. John F. Hultquist permalink
    June 4, 2019 8:38 pm

    If one states an absolute size, say the area of the UK, then it can be argued that for any one of those areas the emissions “are trivial.” To have the UK not participate in the charade of saving the world is a non-starter.
    Come on UK, get your nose to the grindstone and do your part.
    – – winking smiley face – –

  9. tim leeney permalink
    June 4, 2019 9:15 pm

    The more they fudge and the less of our money they waste, the better.

  10. Saighdear permalink
    June 4, 2019 9:51 pm

    but by Jingo! – if WE cook the books, all hell is let loose on us…… so that makes it OK?
    Where’s the children to Pull the Plug on this lot in the Swamp?

  11. George Lawson permalink
    June 5, 2019 8:57 am

    We should look at the small print and see how these changes contribute to Deben’s private bank balance, and perhaps Gove’s also.

  12. Phoenix44 permalink
    June 5, 2019 9:18 am

    Can anybody explain the benefits of this so-called leadership, other than our leaders feeling good about themselves when they go to pointless summits?

  13. Saighdear permalink
    June 5, 2019 10:02 am

    NOT off -topic ! – But is ANYONE referring to the daily Gridwatch website showing the disastrous output from our Eco generators?
    Compare Yesterday with today – at-a-glance. Nobody cares? just same ol’ guff from the BrusselsBroacastingCon etc.

  14. Gerry, England permalink
    June 5, 2019 2:15 pm

    I am sure we can catch up if we shut down our steel industry. That will save a lot.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: