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UK Maintains Outrageous Carbon Target, Despite Skeptics

Jul 22, 2014 12:58 PM EDT
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(Photo : Reuters/Yves Herman)

The United Kingdom is sticking to its guns, and will maintain its goal to cut carbon emissions in half of 1990 levels by 2027, Energy Secretary Ed Davey announced Tuesday - a target political opposition says will be difficult to meet.

The country has set binding targets for greenhouse gases over four five-year periods up until 2027, known as carbon budgets, which aim to put it on track towards cutting emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by the middle of the century.

"Retaining the budget at its existing level provides certainty for businesses and investors by demonstrating government's commitment to our long-term decarbonisation goals," Davey said in a statement on Tuesday.

But the real topic of debate has been the fourth carbon budget in particular, covering 2023 to 2027. Some politicians argue that not only is this goal overambitious and likely unattainable, but it will put Britain under great economic stress, calling for a weaker emissions target.

"We're not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business," Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in a speech in 2011. He resolved to cut emissions "no faster than our fellow countries in Europe."

Osborne famously battled against energy ministers over the issue back when the target was announced in 2011. It was reviewed this 2014 to make sure it wouldn't damage economic competitiveness.

Davey isn't budging on the UK's carbon target - first set by his predecessor, Chris Huhne, and others confident in the move applaud his tenacity.

"The government's decision to reject calls to weaken U.K. climate targets is welcome news," Friends of the Earth Climate Change Campaigner Simon Bullock told Bloomberg Businessweek.

"By sticking to its guns on carbon targets, the coalition government will help bring some much-needed investor confidence, and more importantly capital, into funding the transition to a low carbon economy," Jon Williams, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, told Reuters.

The government's own adviser, the Committee on Climate Change, recommended last year that the fourth budget be retained as the most economic way of achieving its mandatory carbon-cutting goal.

That long term goal, and the committee, were both established by the Climate Change Act, a law that took effect in 2008. If the government hadn't abided by the committee's advice, according to Bloomberg, it would have to explain why.

"Any revision now would be premature, especially in light of the ongoing negotiations in the EU to agree a domestic 40 percent GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction target for 2030 by October," Davey added in his statement.

However, skeptics aren't completely out of line when they say that Britain cannot afford its outrageous goal. The government has said that around 110 billion pounds ($188 billion) of investment in energy infrastructure is needed to replace aging coal and nuclear plants and prevent power shortages into the 2020s, Reuters reported.

Despite these staggering numbers, according to BBC News, Davey is still optimistic about Britain's ability to fulfill its promise.

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