It’s not about ‘watering down’, but leading the way

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The Environmental Audit Committee today advised the government “Don't water down climate targets”. I fear that this message is based on the need for global action and not what the UK can or can't achieve.

The question that we need to answer is: how can the UK (within the EU negotiating block) achieve our climate change goals in such a way that not only avoids damaging our industrial competitiveness but actually enhances it. We know that many countries are watching what happens here in the UK extremely closely. Having met with delegations from China, India and Brazil I'm absolutely convinced that unless we can show the rest of the world that we can achieve the shift to a low carbon economy without damaging the economy then they will not follow our lead. So far they haven't followed our lead in a comparable way.

Let me be clear. This is not EEF calling for the removal of the Climate Change Act. On the contrary. We continue to support the Act and for decisive action to tackle climate change. For example, next month industry and government are to begin work to develop 2050 low carbon roadmaps for the eight most carbon intensive sectors in the UK. This bold, proactive step will see policy makers and industry come together to understand the abatement potential within those sectors and the barriers to realising them. Rather than taking a theoretical position, it will be grounded in reality – how can these opportunities be realised in the context of modern day business cycles and site-based technical barriers. Only by working together can we unlock the vision for a low-carbon yet vibrant industrial base.

We have always believed it would be abhorrent for climate and environment policies to force activity outside the EU bloc. We believe it for climate change policies and have similar concerns that the EU's chemical regime REACH could similarly push unwanted activity simply out of sight and out of the EU. But to continue to buy products and materials that have been treated thus is morally reprehensible.

In Tech for Growth we made our position extremely clear: we should lead the world by building on our world class science and research base by developing and commercialising the cost-effective solutions for adapting to a low carbon world. This is why the low-carbon roadmaps have our overwhelming support. We are now at the position that further increased targets will not help manufacturers reduce emissions: we need solutions and effective policies that help to deliver these solutions, not tighter targets that risk undermining our global competitiveness.

There are three good reasons why we should agree to review the 4th Carbon Budget in early 2014:

1. For the UK government to commit to legally binding targets we must have a firm understanding of the EU ambition for 2025-2030. We can't base our decision on the assumption that the current EU ‘proposals', as they stand, become firm policy. The Commission's summary of Member State responses to the 2030 consultation revealed a diverse range of views on the way forward. If the ambition of European action will be used as a negotiating position in the international talks it may be necessary to delay a final decision on the 4th Carbon Budget until the outcome of Paris.

2. We already know that progress on technology deployment has not matched expectations. We must understand what the current fiscal position means for technology deployment. EEF has called on government to also realign our innovation effort to match our low carbon ambitions. Our R&D spend on energy and environment innovation, as a proportion of the total government R&D budget, lags significantly behind our competitors.

3. The timeline for activity is clear: the Committee on Climate Change will deliver its recommendations and projections in December. It is then for government to assess this against its own evidence and to decide early in the New Year whether the Budget is to be reviewed. We need the right decision and we need it to be evidence based.

I would hope that before anyone makes their own minds up about whether we assess if the current 4th Carbon Budget is fit for purpose, or not, that we first ask the question, “is whatever we decide the best solution for both the UK economy and the global carbon emissions”.

Author

Director of UK Steel

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