The CCC – lobbying or simply presenting the Inconvenient Truth?

Florian Kern, Co-Director of Sussex Energy Group.

Question: When is independent analysis and advice seen to be lobbying?

Answer: When it presents an ‘Inconvenient Truth’

I was prompted to consider this while reading a recent Endsreport article (14th January 2014) on the UK Government’s triennial review of the UK Committee on Climate Change. Despite a generally favourable review, concluding that the CCC should continue in its current form, there are some telling criticisms in Annex D which should be cause for concern to anyone that believes that the CCC should have the freedom to present its independent analysis free from political pressure. EndsReport highlights that Annex D shows that “nearly all” government departments think that the CCC ‘strays too close to lobbying when it provides advice to government, and is risking undermining its credibility’. Secondly, departments feel that the CCC ‘doesn’t take sufficient account of ‘politics’ in its advice… and how this might affect the feasibility of [its] recommendations’.

But can such criticism ever be levelled towards a body that was set up, through the 2008 Climate Change Act, to provide independent analysis and advice. There is a clear contradiction between these departmental criticisms and the overall conclusion that the CCC’s role should not change because “In [its] absence, the government would not receive the necessary advice on the levels of climate change targets and carbon budgets, or be held accountable by a credible body who are independent.” Perhaps this criticism is more reflective of the fact that the CCC has become politically inconvenient to some Government departments.

First we need to consider the political context for criticism of the CCC. While there was cross-party agreement on its role and goals when the 2008 Climate Change Act was passed, in recent years it has become subject to political debate. Some analysts even fear that the Climate Change Act itself might be under threat [1]. So far, the government has always accepted the carbon budgets as proposed by the CCC and so it is significant that the fourth budget is currently under review. The main concern of the Treasury is that that the UK should not act faster than other countries. This view is not necessarily shared by DECC but still leaves the UK position a long way from Tony Blair’s proclaimed global leadership on climate change.

While this context goes some way to explain why the comments were made both are problematic. Accusing the CCC of lobbying is absurd. It was set up to provide independent advice on the basis of evidence and its independent analysis of that evidence. It is meant to hold the government to account against its climate change targets, which is a political task. ‘Political’ in the sense that the CCC prioritises achieving climate change targets over other government ambitions or popularity. While there can be disagreement over a particular piece of analysis or certain projections, no analyst, to the best of my knowledge, has ever found a serious flaw in the CCC’s analysis. In fact the review itself states that the CCC has “raised the bar with respect to climate change analysis” and “this would not have happened if its functions remained inside DECC”. So if the problem is not with the evidence used or the analysis provided by the CCC, then the point about undermining its credibility seems to be more about losing credibility with government. Why? Perhaps because the CCC reports the ‘inconvenient truth’ that UK carbon budgets need to be strengthened and not weakened.

This leads me to my issue with the concern that the CCC is not taking ‘politics’ and ‘political feasibility’ into account. Surely, if it’s the mission of the CCC to provide independent analysis to help government achieve climate change targets, then its recommendations need to be based on what needs to be done and not what might be considered ‘feasible’ by the powers that be. The CCC does not have any decision- making powers and its budgets are merely recommendations, which need to be accepted by government. The judgment of what is feasible and what policies will be implemented is a key government task. Having the independent view of the CCC feed into public discussions is very important as it forces the government to explain the gap between what needs to be done and what is being done.

I am relieved to see that despite these concerns, the review finds overall that the CCC’s role should not change. It is therefore my hope that the CCC will continue its important work and will not bow to any political pressures since that would mean it giving up on its original mission. Mitigating dangerous climate change is too important for that.

1. Lockwood, M. (2013). “The political sustainability of climate policy: The case of the UK Climate Change Act.” Global Environmental Change 23(5): 1339-1348.

Dr Florian Kern is Co-Director of the Sussex Energy Group, SPRU-Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex

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