Emissions targets will stay: Davey
The Government will not weaken tough targets to cut emissions, Ed Davey has announced in a move welcomed by green groups who accused the Treasury of trying to water down efforts on climate change.
The Energy and Climate Change Secretary said the "fourth carbon budget", governing emissions from 2023 to 2027, would remain as it was set in 2011 by his predecessor, Chris Huhne, effectively requiring a 50% greenhouse gas cut on 1990 levels.
Mr Davey's decision was backed by environmentalists, who had feared Chancellor George Osborne wanted to weaken the budget due to concerns the target would make the UK less competitive than EU rivals.
Green groups called on the Government to back up the ambitious target with tough policies to slash emissions.
Ministers had been under pressure from the Government's own climate advisers to maintain the target, with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warning last year there was nothing to "justify a lowering of ambition" and if anything, the plan should be tightened.
Mr Davey said he had also listened to the "vast majority" of businesses, investors and environmental groups who had told him that any change to the budget would be unjustified, deter investment and undermine efforts to secure a global deal on climate change.
He said: "The fourth carbon budget, which caps the UK's emissions, will not change. It covers 2023 to 2027, and will cement the UK as a global leader in combating climate change in an affordable way.
"We are increasingly seeing other countries who recognise our shared responsibility to tackle climate change join us in ambitious action.
"We are close to a new EU climate deal that would cut emissions by 40% across Europe by 2030 - meaning that there would be a level playing field for British business and industry with our biggest trading partners when it comes to cutting emissions.
"In reviewing the fourth carbon budget, I was reassured by the vast majority of business groups, investors and environmental groups who agreed that any change would be unjustified, would deter investment and undermine our efforts to get a global climate deal in 2015."
He added that support for energy intensive industries, set out in the 2014 Budget, underlined the Government's commitment to protect the competitiveness of UK business.
Current estimates showed UK and EU levels of ambition for tackling climate change were likely to be extremely close during the mid-2020s, he said.
The announcement was the culmination of a promised review of the target in 2014, which raised the possibility it could be relaxed if Europe was not making similar efforts to tackle climate change.
The review was announced in 2011 when the Government agreed to accept the recommendation of the CCC to effectively halve emissions by 2025, following wrangling in Cabinet over the goal.
The five-year carbon budgets aim to put the UK on track to meet its legally binding long-term goal of an 80% emissions cut by 2050.
But in its latest progress report to Parliament earlier this month, the CCC warned that the UK was not on track for the mid-century goal and would fail to meet the fourth carbon budget target without stronger and more ambitious policies.
In response to the announcement, David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: "The Government has made the right decision by committing to continue the UK's move towards a low-carbon economy well into the 2020s.
"This degree of clarity is essential to ensure we can build a secure and low-carbon energy system in an affordable way. It should also spur significant economic growth across new industries where the UK is currently leading the global race.
"Looking ahead, we need the next Government - of whatever political complexion - to ensure policies are in place to attract the significant investment in low-carbon infrastructure needed in the coming decade to meet the emission cuts set out in the budget."
Greenpeace UK political director Ruth Davis said: "George Osborne has done everything in his power to water down the UK's keystone climate change policy, putting at risk vital investment in our energy system and our credibility in global climate negotiations.
"Ed Davey deserves praise for standing up to the Treasury's wrecking efforts, and the Prime Minister credit for holding firm on this crucial commitment.
"But setting a carbon target is only half the job. If ministers are serious about hitting it, they should back Europe-wide energy efficiency measures, cut the UK's growing reliance on dirty coal, and ditch fracking in favour of clean energy."
Friends of the Earth climate change campaigner Simon Bullock said: " After a year of horrendous flooding and storms both here and abroad, the Government's decision to reject calls to weaken UK climate targets is welcome news.
"This move will help reduce the uncertainty over the coalition's commitment to cutting carbon, which has driven away business investment and undermined confidence in the green economy.
"David Cameron must now ensure tough policies are in place to meet these targets, such as helping people to insulate their homes, and developing the UK's vast renewable energy potential."
Gareth Stace, head of climate and environment policy at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, backed the Treasury's review of the target to make sure the UK could meet it at least cost and while rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing.
He said: "We support the Government's decision today, but would urge that future targets must emanate from clearer strategies for how each sector of the economy will contribute to meeting our shared goals.
"Concern remains about calls for an increased EU 2030 target whilst the Committee on Climate Change is already warning of a major policy gap in achieving our targets as they stand."
Chairman of the Parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee, Tim Yeo backed the decision, saying there was "no sound economic or scientific basis" for reducing UK ambition to cut action on climate change.
"I congratulate the Government on resisting the calls coming from some quarters to downgrade the ambition of the UK's carbon budgets.
"Doing so now would have sent out the wrong message to the international community just when the US and China appear to be taking positive steps towards agreeing a deal in 2015 to limit emissions.
"It would also have sent a confusing signal to energy investors and businesses at a time when the UK cannot afford any delays in upgrading our energy infrastructure and replacing aging and dirty power stations with cleaner forms of power like nuclear and renewables."
Nicola Walker, director for business environment at employers organisation CBI, said it was sensible to maintain the fourth carbon budget at this point.
"The priority now must be to ensure a successful conclusion to negotiations across Europe on a robust but credible emissions reduction target so that our climate ambitions are aligned," she said.
Andrew Raingold, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, a sustainability organisation which represents businesses ranging from Asda to Jaguar Land Rover and Thames Water, environmental groups and trade unions, said: " Mainstream businesses warmly welcome the Government's commitment to the fourth carbon budget.
"This provides greater certainty for long-term investments in the low carbon technologies that can provide a backbone to growth, jobs and competitiveness.
"The global race to develop and adopt low carbon solutions will help define prosperity in the twenty-first century. This is an important step to ensure that the UK's overall policy framework maximises the economic opportunities of the transition."