The UK is not on track to meet its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the 2020s, the Government's climate advisers have warned.
Some progress has been made in putting in place measures to meet the targets, with record levels of new wind farms, improvements in the fuel efficiency of cars, reducing methane from waste, insulating lofts and replacing boilers in homes.
But other measures saw limited advances in 2012 and progress in some areas risked slowing down in the face of new policies, particularly for renewables and insulation for homes, the Committee on Climate Change said.
More action is needed before the next general election to strengthen policies and increase the rate of emissions cuts, the latest annual progress report to Parliament from the committee urged.
Last year emissions rose by 3.5%, mostly due to the cold winter and more use of coal instead of gas to make electricity, with the dirtier fossil fuel rising from 30% of the energy mix in 2011 to 39% in 2012, the report said. Without these effects, emissions would have fallen by around 1% to 1.5%, short of the 3% annual reductions which will be needed to meet targets to cut greenhouse gases in the 2020s.
The UK comfortably met its first five-year "carbon budget" to reduce emissions up to 2012 and is on track to meet the next set of goals up to 2017, but this is largely the result of the recession rather than the impact of climate policies. It is a "very significant challenge" to increase the pace of reductions to meet the third and fourth carbon budgets up to 2022 and 2027, especially when the economy returns to higher levels of growth which could spark more emissions.
The report recommended a range of measures across the economy from making eco-driving part of the driving test to tightening building regulations to ensure homes are "zero-carbon" from 2016. The Government should look at measures to cut emissions from waste, such as banning biodegradable rubbish from landfill or bringing in more separate food leftovers collections, and push to reduce gases that come from air-conditioning and refrigeration.
The expert advisory panel repeated its call for the Government to set a target to slash emissions from the power sector by 2030, to give investors confidence to invest in low-carbon energy such as renewables and nuclear. The annual report warned that last year there were very low levels of solid wall insulation installed, take-up of low-carbon heat pumps and improvements in energy efficiency in commercial buildings and industry.
The committee's chief executive David Kennedy said: "Although the first carbon budget has been comfortably achieved and the second is likely to be achieved, this is largely due to the impact of the economic downturn.
"There remains a very significant challenge delivering the 3% annual emissions reduction required to meet the third and fourth carbon budgets, particularly as the economy returns to growth. Government action is required over the next two years to develop and implement new policies. A failure to do this would raise the costs and risks associated with moving to a low-carbon economy."