New Research: Government refuse to tell us how much they think their pledge to cut emissions 42% by 2020 will cost

This morning, the Times reports on the Department of Energy and Climate Change's refusal to answer our Freedom of Information request for their estimate of the cost of meeting a target of a 42% cut in emissions by 2020.


In December, TPA research revealed the enormous potential cost of that pledge:

    • If Britain continues a strong performance relative to other advanced economies in cutting emissions intensity, the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide produced per million pounds of GDP, we can expect emissions intensity to fall by nearly 30 per cent by 2020.


    • With economic growth in line with Treasury expectations, that will mean that carbon dioxide emissions can be expected to fall to around 489 Mt by 2020.  That means the cut from 1990 emissions levels will be nearly 18 per cent (the current target requires a 34 per cent cut in British emissions).


    • To meet a 42 per cent target at the present rate of improvements in emissions intensity, the size of the economy in 2020 would need to be cut by 30 per cent from expected levels, or nearly £507 billion (2005 prices).  That would leave GDP lower than it was in 2004.


    • The rate of carbon intensity improvement would need to nearly double to meet a 42 per cent target without compromising national income.  That is highly unlikely given that even existing technologies such as nuclear and tidal power, or carbon capture and storage, are unlikely to be able to make a major contribution by 2020.

Following on from that research, we submitted the following FOI request in order to find out the projected cost that the Government was basing its decisions on:

Freedom of information request for any analysis of the potential cost of strengthened climate change commitments at Copenhagen

Dear Sir/Madam,

During the Copenhagen conference, it was reported (e.g. here: that the British delegation was working to secure an ambitious deal that would involve the UK committing to a 42 per cent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.  I am writing to enquire about any analysis that might have been undertaken of the potential cost of honouring such a commitment.

In particular, I am requesting: any and all documents concerning the potential financial and/or economic cost of Britain meeting a pledge to cut emissions by 42 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.  Or, any such analysis provided to the delegation by e-mail.

I would be grateful if you could confirm in writing that you have received this request.

My preferred format to receive this information is electronically, but if that is not possible I will gladly accept letters at the address below.

Matthew Sinclair


In their response, the Department said that they held the information and acknowledged that there was clearly a public interest in disclosure.  But shockingly they refused to release the information on the grounds that doing so would make their negotiations more difficult.  You can read their response here:


Download DECC response to TPA FOI request


Matthew Sinclair, Research Director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

"It is astonishing that DECC think that the public should be kept in the dark about the potential cost of a new pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 42% by 2020.  There is no way for a proper democratic debate to take place if they aren't open about the costs they expect the country to have to bear to meet the proposed target.

It is utterly implausible that revealing their projection of the cost will really affect Britain's negotiating position, as any great insight that suggests the cost of cutting emissions to meet the target is likely to be much higher or lower than we think is almost certain to affect other European countries in a similar way.  Even if we accept the spurious case that making the cost public will affect the negotiations over a new deal though, that is a necessary price to pay.  There is no way that parliamentarians, the media and the public should be expected to just trust the Department's judgement on such a major commitment.

It might be that DECC's projection of the cost is high and, with many people struggling in the recession and expecting big bills to get the public finances under control, the public will reject the new target.  That would hardly be unreasonable given that major emitters like the US and China clearly aren't coming close to following Europe's lead in adopting expensive climate change policies.  Or, it might be that the analysis suggests a low cost on the basis of some very suspect assumptions about the economy or the task of rapidly cutting emissions.  Maybe the Department have bought their own hype that Britain can capture the markets of the future by making people pay a fortune for expensive renewable energy in higher electricity bills, which is like saying that if someone buys enough copies of Microsoft Office they'll become as rich as Bill Gates.  In that case, people should be able to challenge the Government's thinking.  Regardless, it is completely unacceptable for the decision to be stitched up behind closed doors.  No matter how important climate change policy is, it can't be above democratic scrutiny."

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