SamuelaBassiA recent study out of the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute found that the UK is one of the leading countries in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and, contrary to what many perceive, this is not doing any economic harm. Samuela Bassi summarises the findings in this article. 

The perception by some that the UK, by going ‘green’ more quickly than the rest of the world, is doing itself economic harm is unfounded. The UK is an international leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and its 2008 Climate Change Act is widely praised as a pioneering piece of legislation. The UK, however, is not acting alone. Rather, the UK is part of a leading group, which also contains its main trading partners, and even countries like China and the United States, often perceived as the big emitting ‘bad guys’, have ambitious climate change objectives.

Our study compared the UK’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with those of its competitors inside and outside the European Union (EU). The international comparison of the UK with other countries was based on the strength of targets for reducing greenhouse gases, the number of climate-related legislation, and carbon prices.

The context for the study is the government’s review of the fourth carbon budget. The government set the budget in 2010 but committed to review it in 2014 amid reports of a row between government departments and business about its ambition vis-à-vis our international competitors and particularly others in the EU. The analysis in our report showed that, rather than committing the UK to go above and beyond what it is committed to do under EU law, the fourth carbon budget is consistent with the target the UK is likely to be set as part of the emerging EU 2030 framework for climate and energy policy. Under the package, which the European Council is expected to vote in the autumn, annual emissions across the European Union should be reduced by at least 40 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990. Effort-sharing arrangements, like those adopted for the 2020 EU climate change targets, would mean that member states like the UK would have to do more than the EU average to cut carbon emission, based on the principle that the richest countries should cut their emissions fastest. Other Member States, such as France and Germany, would be expected to do the same.

Our research also found that all of the UK’s main trading partners and competitors, except Turkey, have set specific reduction or limitation targets for greenhouse gas emissions. China has made a commitment to reduce its emissions per unit of GDP, or carbon intensity, by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared with 2005, which is more ambitious than the UK’s implied target of cutting its carbon intensity by 39 per cent over the same period.

The study points out that some developed countries outside the European Union, such as the United States, have adopted short-term or medium-term targets that are less ambitious than those of the UK. However, it also notes that the United States has pledged to reduce its emissions by 83 per cent by 2050 compared with 2005, while the UK’s long-term goal means a cut of 76 per cent over the same period.

In addition, the study draws attention to a recently published survey by Globe International and the Grantham Research Institute which identified 61 countries other than the UK that have introduced legal provisions to establish the basis for action on climate change. Carbon prices paid by businesses and households in the UK were also found to be in the middle to upper end of a global range, rather than at the top.

Climate ambition has to be assessed relative to a country’s economic capabilities and international responsibilities. We found that developed countries typically have more ambitious targets, more extensive legislative and institutional arrangements, and higher carbon prices. However, we find increasingly ambitious commitments – especially post-2009 –from the major emerging (and high-emitting) economies. Increasingly, countries like Brazil, China, India, Mexico and others are committing, planning, legislating and pricing greenhouse gas emissions to a significant degree.

The UK is ahead of its competitors in one aspect: its forward planning. Few other countries are preparing for the 2020s to the same degree as the UK is through the fourth carbon budget. Such longer term thinking is laudable and a deliberate feature of the Climate Change Act. It provides greater certainty and forward guidance for investors.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. 

About the Author

SamuelaBassiSamuela Bassi is a Policy Analyst at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, LSE.


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