UK emissions figures distorted by offsets, say MPs


MPs have called for the UK's greenhouse gas emission emission targets to be increased from 30 to 42 per cent by 2020

UK emissions figures are ‘misleading’ and need to be recounted because they include offsets, according to a committee of MPs

A report looking at the UK's carbon 'budgets', released today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), has criticised the Government’s use of offsets and called for a recalculation of the figures.   

It also called for the targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts to be increased from 30 to 42 per cent by 2020.

Misleading offsets

According to the Committee's report, the UK purchased 31.4 million carbon credits through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2006 and 25.7 million in 2007.

However, MPs said the Government was wrong to claim these offsets as part of the UK's overall emission cuts.

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'Trading only guarantees global emissions reductions if each country has its own national emissions limits, set in harmony with others, at a level designed to achieve a global reduction target,' said the Committee.

'The Government’s official emissions figures for 2005–2007, which incorporate the net purchase of EU ETS credits, are therefore somewhat misleading in suggesting that UK emissions were reduced. Simply making a purchase of EU ETS credits does not necessarily mean that the UK is funding real and equivalent emissions reductions elsewhere.

'The UK should only accept emission credits for use within UK carbon budgets, if they have come from countries that have implemented equivalent national emissions targets and managed to cut emissions below them.'

Recalculate budget

In compiling the report, MPs heard from Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who said that buying an off-set from a country with lower long term ambitions than the UK was not the same as reducing domestic emissions by the equivalent of a tonne of carbon.

The report calls for a recalculation of the UK’s carbon budget to prevent further distortion.

‘We recommend that efforts should be made to determine what actual savings were in order to provide a sound basis for future budgets to deliver the necessary real savings in emissions.’

It says a ‘discount rate’ should be applied to emissions trading, which would reflect the report's assertion that trading carbon is not as valuable as reducing emissions at home. This is in line with proposals in the US that would require American firms to buy five offset credits for every four tonnes of carbon they emit.

MPs too 'optimistic'

The MP's report also called on the UK Government to move to a target of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 42 per cent cut by 2020 irrespective of whether or not the EU moves to a 30 per cent target for cutting its emissions.

It also says Ministers had often been too 'optimistic' when projecting how much carbon their policies will cut - and there is now a worrying shortfall in delivery.

UK emissions are currently falling by only about 1 per cent per year, instead of the 2-3 per cent per year that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says is needed.

MPs say the Government is only on track to meet its first carbon budget because of the impact of the recession.

'We must send a clear signal to developing countries that we are serious about making an international deal work - by meeting our own targets more quickly,' said Committee chair Tim Yeo.

'The slower our progress; the less credibility we will have internationally.'

WWF agreed: 'Now more than ever, it is vital that individual countries show leadership in the climate change debate, by setting tough targets for cutting their own carbon emissions,' said WWF head of climate change Keith Allott.

'The EAC's call for a unilateral move to 42 per cent emissions reductions by the UK is a very welcome signal that the need to tackle climate change is still high up on the political agenda, after the disappointing result of the Copenhagen climate talks last December. '

Useful links

Environmental Audit Committee (EAC)

Carbon emissions: the world in 2010
A post-Copenhagen look at where the carbon emissions are coming from and how that is projected to change over the coming decade
A toothless cap-and-trade scheme is a planetary wrecking ball
The theory of cap-and-trade is brilliantly simple; in practice, however, it's just not moving fast enough, says Alison Smith. A runner-up in the Ecologist/nef essay competition...
Carbon: from pollutant to potential resource
Instead of dumping carbon deep underground we could be exploring ways to use it and reduce our overall emissions at the same time
All carbon is not born equal
Are we risking serious problems if action to tackle deforestation assumes that a tonne of tree carbon is the same as a tonne of fossil carbon?
Why carbon trading cannot work
Carbon trading cannot work. How do we know this? Because economic theory tells us so

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