IPCC undermines UK Climate Change Act

Oliver Geden, an energy and climate policy analyst from Germany, has given an interview “EU’s climate policy has lost its scientific basis”. He explains that the specific target that developed countries should aim for at least an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, which was explicitly stated in IPCC AR4 (2007), is not present in AR5. This means that there is no longer any basis for EU emissions reduction policies targets.

The relevant section of AR4 is this table on page 776, chapter 13.

(thanks to Oliver for pointing me to this – I had never been sure where these targets came from). In the latest IPCC WG3 report published in full yesterday, there is no such table with specific targets. The relevant chapter is again chapter 13, where there are only rather vague discussions of “Climate policy architectures” (Sec 13.4) and proposed policies in Sec 13.13.2.

From the UK perspective, this is very relevant for the UK Climate Change Act. The act was passed in 2008, a year after AR4, and proposes exactly the same target as in the above table, an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. Since there is no equivalent statement in AR5, it appears that the IPCC has undermined the basis for the Climate Change Act.

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6 thoughts on “IPCC undermines UK Climate Change Act

  1. This may possibly be a useful argument for those trying to get the Act repealed, but I don’t think it undermines it. For that to be true, the Act would have to state that its target is based on the IPCC report – I’m unaware that it does. I suppose it could, theoretically, be useful because the Secretary of State’s power to amend that target (s 2 of the Act) is exercisable if “significant developments in … international … policy make it appropriate to do so …” I suppose this might be regarded as such a development. But there’s no obligation to make an amendment and I don’t see Ed Davey being very interested anyway.

  2. Robin, that’s interesting. I haven’t read all the way through the act. Does it really not say anywhere where the numbers come from? There must be some explanation, either in the act itself or in the discussions that led up to it?

  3. Somewhat o/t but … Another of the things I find curious about this particular table (and no doubt others) – although it remains something I’ve never investigated – is the “framing” of “CO2 – eq”.

    According to Zeke Hausfather:

    With all the focus on carbon footprints, carbon trading, carbon taxes, etc. it’s important to remember that there are other important greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and various halocarbons, that also contribute to warming – though not so much as carbon dioxide.
    […]
    Carbon dioxide equivalence is a simple way to normalize all these greenhouse gases and other climate influences in standard units based on the radiative forcing of a unit of carbon dioxide over a specified timeframe (generally set at 100 years).

    For example, one ton of methane would be equal to 25 tons of CO2-eq, because it has a global warming potential 25 times that of CO2..

    One major source of confusion surrounding the use of CO2-eq is that there are two different ways in which CO2-eq can be interpreted. [emphasis added -hro]

    Setting aside the obligatory “not so much as carbon dioxide” (and the [carefully?!] omitted distinction between human-generated CO2 vs naturally occurring CO2, is it not extremely ironic that it is we skeptics who are constantly accused of generating and spreading “confusion”?!

    I wonder how/when/why the decision was made to declare that CO2 would – in effect – (very conveniently?!) become the … uh … ‘gold standard currency’ for measuring all Greenhouse Gas Emissions of all stripes and flavours.

    And, of course, this also makes me wonder whether it was pure unadulterated human-generated CO2 (or one or more of its “equivalents”) to which I should attribute the unprecedented April 15 extremely low temperature and accompanying unsightly white stuff covering ground and trees that I experienced in Toronto yesterday, prior to my flight back to my home turf, the temperate climate of Vancouver, BC 😉

  4. This is further to my post above. In March 2009, the DECC published a document entitled “Climate Change Act 2008 Impact Assessment (March 2009)“. I don’t think it has any direct legal significance. But I do think it might (or should) inform political debate about the CCA (if there is such a debate) – and especially in relation to events over the next 20 months.

    The next 20 months are critical because that’s when I believe it will become finally clear that there is not going to be a binding worldwide deal to make substantial (if any) reductions in GHG emissions. The events to watch carefully will be Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit for world leaders in September of this year, the subsequent UNFCCC climate conference in Lima (COP20) in December and of course the all important “make or break” UNFCCC conference (COP21) a year later in Paris – also the various working group meetings etc. between these dates.

    How does this relate to that DECC document? I’ll answer that by reference to some extracts which, I believe, speak for themselves. Bear in mind this document is about why the CCA exists.

    1. From “Summary: Intervention & Options”:

    1. To avoid dangerous climate change in an economically sound way. In particular by:

    • Demonstrating the UK’s leadership in tackling climate change – to increase the chances of a binding international emissions reduction agreement that would stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that would avoid dangerous climate change; [My emphases]

    2. From “Summary of Costs and Benefits of the Climate Change Act” S2:

    The benefits of UK action will be distributed across the globe. In the case where the UK acts in concert with other countries then the UK will benefit from other nations reduced emissions and would be expected to experience a large net benefit. Where the UK acts alone, though there would be a net benefit for the world as a whole the UK would bear all the cost of the action and would not experience any benefit from reciprocal reductions elsewhere. The economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action cannot be achieved would be weak. [My emphasis]

    3. From “Evidence Base – 2. Illustrative Costs and Benefits of reducing UK emissions – Pathways to transition 2.4.9″:

    The criteria include requirements that the level of the budgets must be consistent with the long term target and the overall objectives of the Climate Change Act – ensuring the UK is making a full contribution to global action on climate change mitigation. [My emphasis]

    4. As above (Evidence Base – 2) “Benefits when the UK acts but the world does not“:

    The benefits of UK action would be significantly lower at £425billion and this benefit would be distributed across the all nations while the UK would carry all of the cost of action. … The long-term target under such a scenario would show a small net benefit for the world as a whole, but would show a very large net cost for the UK – close to all of the costs of the UK’s action. This highlights the central importance of co- operative and co-ordinated international action on climate change. [Emphasis in original text]

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