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Tough emissions targets 'must stay'
Campaigners have urged the Government not to water down targets for cutting emissions as experts concluded that ministers should consider going even further to protect the environment.
Th e Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has advised ministers not to deviate from the UK's greenhouse gas reduction totals for the period 2023-27.
The so-called fourth carbon budget will mean reducing emissions by 50% on 1990 levels in 2025 and the CCC said there was no reason to "justify a lowering of ambition" and "if anything, changed circumstances point towards a tightening" of the plan.
But the CCC advised it would be premature to recommend further changes until uncertainties at the European Union level had been resolved.
Campaigners from business and charities called on the Government to back the committee's findings.
Retailers including Sainsbury's, Asda and Marks and Spencer, utilities firms including SSE and Thames Water and charities including the RSPB and Greenpeace were among more than 100 organisations backing the budget's target.
"As a range of businesses, investors, faith groups and NGOs representing a wide spectrum of the UK economy and society, we jointly urge the Government to stick to ambitious emission reduction objectives for the 2020s to give business the certainty it needs to commit significant investments to the UK's promising low-carbon economy and in so doing, maintain our energy security," they said.
The CCC found low-carbon measures would add around £100 to household bills in 2020, but after that increases associated with the fourth carbon budget would add up to £20 from 2020 to 2030.
The report compared a strategy of reducing emissions through the 2020s with one where action is delayed until the 2030s.
It showed significant savings from early action, including over £100 billion in present value terms, assuming that the gas price remains at the current level, with much higher savings in a world with a high gas price.
The only situation where early action would be more costly is if there were to be a combination of a low carbon price and low fossil fuel prices.
CCC chairman Lord Deben, a Tory former environment secretary, said: "This report shows the clear economic benefits of acting to cut emissions through the 2020s.
"This provides insurance against the increased costs and risks of climate-related damage and rising energy bills that would result from an alternative approach to reduce and delay action.
"While it is essential to understand affordability and competitiveness impacts associated with the budget, the evidence suggests that these are relatively small and manageable.
"The Government should confirm the budget as a matter of urgency. This would remove the current uncertainly and poor investment climate. It would provide a boost to the wide range of investors who stand ready to invest in low-carbon technologies."
Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said: "There's no justification for watering down the fourth carbon budget - doing so would drive up emissions, drive away jobs and send Britain's international credibility on this crucial issue into reverse.
"Our over-reliance on increasingly costly fossil fuels has sent bills soaring and heightened the risk of extreme weather battering Britain. Switching to clean energy will help tackle this.
"Leading businesses are crying out to invest in the nation's huge renewable energy potential, but they need the confidence to do so, which is why they are backing ambitious cuts in UK carbon pollution.
"If Ministers are serious about safeguarding Britain's interests they should strengthen our climate targets, not weaken them."
The carbon budgets act as markers towards the Climate Change Act's target for the UK to reduce its emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.
Greenpeace policy director Doug Parr said: "With confirmation from his own advisers that there is no legal, economic or environmental case for changing the UK's carbon target for the next decade, it's time for David Cameron to stop pretending that the UK is going further or faster than other countries in tackling climate change, and get on with actually cutting pollution.
"Only through this can UK reap the economic and employment benefits that come with being first in key technologies like offshore wind."
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "The UK takes its obligations under the Climate Change Act to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 extremely seriously. The Committee's advice has an important role in the fourth carbon budget review and we agree with them that it is important to make a final decision as quickly as possible.
"We will consider the CCC's advice carefully as part of our work on the review, which will be published in the New Year."