UK Energy and Clean Growth Minister says she got ‘really frustrated’ at those EU countries blocking higher targets for vehicle emissions at recent summit
Claire Perry, the UK’s Energy and Clean Growth Minister, has admitted she is “angry” at European colleagues for blocking more ambitious emissions reductions targets for new cars and vans.
Speaking yesterday at the BusinessGreen Leaders Summit, Perry admitted she was left “really frustrated” during last week’s Council negotiations in the European Union, where energy ministers decided new emissions targets for vehicles.
Asked how she felt in the wake of last week’s report from the IPCC, which warned the world faced escalating climate risks and a unprecedented challenge to slash greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years, Perry said the report sparked a combination of pride in the UK’s decarbonisation record, a sense of responsibility to deliver more rapid progress, and anger at those industrialised nations that have failed to deliver sustained emissions reductions as a result of “ideological” policy decisions.
EU environment ministers last week settled on a target to cut tailpipe emissions by 35 per cent by 2030, despite the fact well over half of EU states – including the UK – were pushing for a more ambitious 40 per cent cut.
A coalition of Germany, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland blocked the approval of the higher target.
Perry said the meeting was an example of the frustration she feels when Britain’s track record of cutting emissions is not always matched by other industrialised nations.
“I felt a little bit angry that we have worked really hard in this country to embrace this and deliver policies, and I get really frustrated with other countries, major developed countries like the ones we were negotiating CO2 emissions reductions with in Europe this week for cars and vans,” she said. “Because of our Road to Zero [strategy] we were absolutely pushing for the highest level of ambition along with other countries, and we kind of had to settle for less because of the immense lobbying power of some industries in other countries. I felt a little bit angry about that.”
The German car industry is one of the most powerful in the world, employing almost 750,000 people and producing six million cars a year – 35 per cent of Europe’s total. It has been widely blamed for lobbying to water down future carbon targets, even as it seeks to step up investment in low emission models.
The decision to agree to a lower emissions target for 2030 disappointed many climate campaigners. “It shows how far the commission and some member states have shrunk from climate leadership, putting carmakers’ interests first despite the dire warning of the effects of dangerous climate change,” said Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at Transport & Environment.
In contrast, the UK has spent the last week talking up its climate achievements as part of its inaugural Green GB Week. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has released a flurry of fresh green policies as part of the event, including funding for green heating projects and a fresh push to expand the green finance market.
Perry’s speech at the BusinessGreen Leaders Summit included a promise of more action to cut emissions from the UK’s building sector, with the government promising to launch a new innovation competition next year to develop the ‘Home of 2030’.
Perry also announced a new collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to introduce an international market accelerator for green construction. She said the government will provide £106m of funding, with the intention of mobilising £2bn of private investment in green buildings.
“This about trying to get clean growth markets opening up in emerging economies so that we can create markets for this expertise and innovation,” she explained. “This mission is a very serious attempt not to just tokenistically try and build new homes but actually fundamentally reshape how we deliver construction in these countries… both in terms of trying to reduce emissions in the built environment but also in the building process, and create innovation that we can export.”
But Perry left some in the green economy frustrated over the government’s decision to exclude near term emissions reductions targets from the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) assignment to investigate whether to set a net zero emission target for the UK.
When instructing the CCC earlier this week to look at a net zero target, Perry excluded the third, fourth and fifth carbon budgets from the requested analysis. Speaking at the BusinessGreen Leaders Summit, she said the government has already planned its carbon reduction strategy for the coming 15 years, and that the Ministers now wanted to know the best course of action beyond that date.
She urged the CCC to “help us get from minus 60 per cent [carbon emissions] in 2032 to zero”. “Help us understand which technologies we should be investing in,” she added.
Her comments followed an appearance in the House of Commons earlier in the day where she told Shadow Secretary of State for Trade, Energy and Climate Change Barry Gardiner that the government stood by the decision to exclude current carbon budgets from the net zero review.
“The point is that the Committee on Climate Change told us last time we discussed the challenge of zero carbon that it was not technically feasible now,” she said. “It would be pointless to ask for its advice again when we already have some of the most ambitious carbon reduction plans in the world up to 2032, set in statute. We need to know what to do from 2032 onwards, so that we can start planning for it now. Just once, it would be lovely to have some cross-party consensus on the challenging, vital issue of the destruction that climate change will cause. I live in hope.”
But green commentators were quick to argue that the decision does not align with advice from either the CCC or IPCC scientists, who last week argued more urgent action was needed over the next 12 years to keep the world on a pathway that avoids more than 1.5C of warming. A host of experts have warned that waiting to ramp up emissions reductions efforts would cost more in the long run and increase the risk of overshooting the carbon budgets.
At yesterday’s Energy UK conference in London, the CEO of the CCC Chris Stark reportedly admitted he was “surprised” to be told the fourth and fifth carbon budgets were off limits for the Committee’s investigation. He said the CCC had already argued the most cost effective path would go beyond current carbon budgets.
Others in the NGO sector were vocal in their criticism of the government’s decision.
“It would appear that our Climate Minister hasn’t fully read or understood the landmark report from the IPCC published last week, which stated in the starkest possible terms that additional action is required over the next 12 years if we are to have any hope of keeping global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth.
“It is therefore nonsensical for her to ask the Committee on Climate Change to provide an update on UK action required to deliver the Paris agreement while telling them they can’t recommend anything over this 12 year period. Perhaps the real reason is because she’s worried they might point out that fracking and building a third runway at Heathrow are both incompatible with 1.5 degrees?”
Meanwhile Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of Renewable UK, said the government must start work on more ambitious carbon cuts immediately. “The government has done the right thing by taking the first step towards setting a new target of net zero carbon emissions, but this needs to be followed swiftly with robust action. Conservative ministers took the bold decision in 2015 to phase out coal; they need to be bold again.”