The UK will again press home the “environmental and economic” case for tightening Europe’s emissions targets at informal talks in Denmark next week.
Climate change minister Greg Barker told the BBC’s Today programme that moving from the current target of cutting emissions 20 per cent against 1990 levels by 2020 to a new 30 per cent goal would boost investment in low-carbon industries and strengthen the price of carbon, which has tumbled more than 60 per cent in a year.
Barker said tougher targets would also help UK and European companies access a clean tech market estimated to be worth “trillions of dollars” by 2015 and allow the UK to build on progress that saw emissions fall seven per cent last year.
“If we’re going to send a strong message to industry that investing in the clean tech businesses of the future is a viable and exciting proposition, we need a strong carbon price,” he said. “There is plenty of scope for us to increase the level of ambition and push up the carbon price, but still do it in a way that’s good for business.
“By increasing the level of ambition, we would be saying we’ve got to do more and that would have a positive impact on the price of carbon – it would also reduce the amount of credits in circulation.”
The UK, along with France and Germany, has been pushing for tougher targets at an EU level for more than a year.
Barker stressed that Chancellor George Osborne, who last year declared the UK would not save the planet by putting itself out of business, was “very much on board” with the idea of more demanding targets. But he echoed Osborne in his insistence that the UK would not act unilaterally if other EU states refused to sign up to more ambitious targets.
“We’re going to comfortably exceed our 2020 emissions target as it stands, which is [a reduction of] 20 per cent [and] we think we’re in a good position to raise that level of ambition to 30 per cent,” he said. “As the chancellor said, we’re not going to do that unilaterally. We want to do that in conjunction with the rest of Europe.”
“The chancellor is very realistic,” he added. “He of course puts the British economy first, but where there are sensible measures to be taken to drive low-carbon competitiveness, he’s very much on board.”
Barker also expressed confidence that growing support for the 30 per cent target would help discussions with other EU member states at the meeting on 19 April at Horsens in Eastern Denmark.
Poland, which held the rotating presidency last year, has twice vetoed the idea over concerns the new regime would damage its coal-heavy economy.
“We’re working patiently and quietly behind the scenes, making not just the environmental case, but the economic case as well, looking at the huge opportunity in low-carbon and clean tech markets,” Barker said.
“If we want to wean ourselves off expensive, imported oil and gas – and remember it was the massive increase in gas prices last year that was a brake on economic activity – then we need to be a cleaner economy.”
Greg Barker calls for 30% emissions reduction target
The climate change minister says the UK should boost its emissions target – but only if Europe does the same
Britain should boost its carbon emissions reduction target to 30%, a government minister said on Tuesday – but only if Europe does the same.
Greg Barker said the low carbon trading price in Europe opened the door to the continent to exceed its 2020 target of a 20% reduction in emissions on 1990 levels.
The climate change minister is due to attend talks next week where he will bid to persuade his European counterparts to go beyond their earlier commitments.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Barker said there needed to be a “strong carbon price” to encourage businesses to invest in clean technology.
He said: “The emissions trading scheme has seen the price of carbon fall almost to record lows because of the turmoil in Europe.
“There is plenty of scope for us to increase that level of ambition and push up the carbon price and still do it in a way that is good for business and gives long-term certainty but doesn’t actually harm our competitiveness.
“We would be saying we have got to do more and that would have a positive impact on the price of carbon and reduce the amount of credit in circulation.”
Barker said the chancellor, George Osborne, backed the idea as he had been one of the “original cheerleaders” for carbon emissions trading.
But he said Britain would not move unilaterally to increase the target.
Barker said: “We are going to comfortably exceed our 2020 emissions target as things stand, which is 20%. We think we are in a good position to raise that level of ambition to 30%.
“We want to do that in conjunction with the rest of Europe. We are working not just on the environmental case but the economic case, looking at the huge growth in low-carbon and clean technology not just in Europe but around the world.
“We need to be a cleaner economy.”
Last year, Osborne told the Conservative party conference that the UK would not lead the rest of Europe in efforts to cut emissions. A European commission analysis obtained by the Guardian in January suggest
Poland vetoes EU pathway to deeper emissions cuts
Coal-heavy country leaves businesses in limbo over post-2020 emissions targets
Businesses face further uncertainty over future emissions reduction goals after Poland vetoed a proposed EU move to strengthen current targets for 2020 and adopt new targets for 2030, isolating itself from the other 26 members of the bloc.
The coal-dependent country was the only state to vote against a roadmap outlining a new roadmap for achieving an 80% cut in emissions against a 1990 baseline by 2050 at a meeting of European ministers on Friday.
UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey had travelled to Brussels looking to secure a shift to 25% cuts by 2020 from the current target of 20%, a move which EU analysis says will be more cost effective in the long term.
Many businesses had welcomed the extra certainty such a move would bring for investments in the green economy, with a host of blue chips endorsing the new plan, while Denmark, current holders of the EU presidency, France and Germany also led calls for the new targets to be adopted.
However, despite intense negotiations, which saw Denmark drop the controversial 25 % target for 2020, in favour of a 40 % reduction by 2030, a 60% cut by 2040, and an 80% cut by 2050, Poland refused to agree with the rest of the member states and sign on to the new plan.
Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard expressed disappointment that Poland had derailed a bid for more demanding targets for a second time, but said strong backing for the proposals meant the EU could still make progress on other aspects of its climate policy, such as the planned energy efficiency directive.
“Poland’s no to the European Commission low-carbon Roadmap is unfortunate, but it will not stop Europe from moving on with its transition to a low-carbon economy,” she said. “The Presidency and the other 26 member states explicitly asked the Commission to move on, and that is what we will do.”
Davey also expressed frustration, but vowed to continue to make the case for higher emissions targets.
“The outcome shows how we must redouble our efforts in explaining to Poland that shifting to a low carbon economy is part of long term growth in Europe. I’m going to be working with the Poles to make that case,” he said.
“There’s been a clear call today from 26 countries for the Commission to come forward with policy proposals to help deliver the low carbon economy and I encourage them to do that as soon as possible.”
Green campaign group WWF warned European leaders would have to step up their efforts to ensure all countries bought into the low emissions pathway.
“Poland’s isolated stance risks leaving the EU stuck with an embarrassingly feeble level of ambition on climate change,” said Dr Katherine Watts, international climate change policy adviser at WWF-UK.
“Leaders such as David Cameron and Angela Merkel cannot stand by and let Poland’s short-termist actions derail Europe’s international leadership on the environment.”