In 2008, the UK became the first country worldwide to commit to a carbon budget. The Climate Change Act of 2008 first introduced the concept. It created a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. It also had an interim target to reduce emissions by at least 34 per cent by 2020.1
The Climate Change Act 2008 made Britain a world leader in tackling climate change through legislation. It was extraordinary in that aspect.2 But what do carbon budgets mean, and why should they matter to us?
What is the carbon budget?
A carbon budget is meant to be the amount of CO2 emissions allowed over a certain period to keep within certain targets of global warming. For example, scientists may recommend that a government has a budget of X amount of CO2 emissions over the next five years to ensure that the world stays within a target of two degrees global warming. Governments or companies should then strive to stay within their budgets to ensure that there isn’t runaway global warming.3
Why are carbon budgets needed?
The aim is to make it easy for governments and companies to set targets to avert runaway global warming. But these targets can depend on a range of factors, which can make the comparison between countries difficult.4
The UK carbon budget
The UK’s first carbon budget was between 2008 and 2012. The UK had a carbon budget of 3,018 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, over that period, the UK emitted 2,982 MtCO2e, and it was under its budget. The carbon budget levels in the UK are set under advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC).5
Can CCUS help the global carbon budget?
In theory, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology should help us tackle climate change. This is because it allows factories to capture carbon emissions before they reach the atmosphere. Organisations like the International Energy Agency believe that around 10 per cent of carbon emissions savings will come from CCUS technology by 2050.
Therefore, CCUS technology can help governments and companies reduce carbon emissions and help with their budget. However, CCUS technology is still unproven, expensive, and it may be hard to scale enough to make a serious impact on carbon emissions, say critics.6
- Dept. for Energy and Climate Change (2014). Final Statement for the First Carbon Budget. gov.uk.
- Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. (n.d.). How is the UK tackling climate change? [online] Available at: https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/uk-energy-policies-and-prices/how-is-the-uk-tackling-climate-change.
- Fankhauser, S. (2020). What are Britain’s carbon budgets? [online] Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment. Available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-are-carbon-budgets-and-why-do-we-have-them/.
- Hausfather, Z. (2018). Analysis: How much “carbon budget” is left to limit global warming to 1.5C? | Carbon Brief. [online] Carbon Brief. Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-how-much-carbon-budget-is-left-to-limit-global-warming-to-1-5c.
- Dept. for Energy and Climate Change (n.d.). Final Statement for the First Carbon Budget. gov.uk.
- Carbon Tracker Initiative. (2020). Carbon budgets: Where are we now? [online] Available at: https://carbontracker.org/carbon-budgets-where-are-we-now/.