The United Kingdom's Department for Energy and Climate Change ("DECC") has published a draft "Carbon Plan," setting out the UK government's plan of action on climate change for the next five years. The plan is open for consultation with a view to publishing a final version in autumn 2011, after which it will be updated annually.

The Carbon Plan represents ongoing and planned cross-government action with specific deadlines providing for both internal accountability and public transparency. Setting out a vision for moving to a low-carbon economy, the Plan focuses on jobs and economic opportunities and on policies that aim to help insulate the UK from future energy price shocks.

The Plan takes account of the UK's first three five-year "carbon budgets" (covering the period from 2008 to 2022), which have already been set pursuant to the UK's Climate Change Act 2008. DECC has announced that "in recognition that the fourth carbon budget (2023-2027) will be set in law in June 2011, we will publish an updated 'live' Carbon Plan in October which takes the four carbon budgets into account."

The Carbon Plan consolidates various strands of energy and climate change policy into a road map that will be updated as policies arise. The intention is for a quarterly update on progress against actions, with the Plan being published on the Prime Minister's "Number 10" web site.

The Carbon Plan highlights three key changes that would be required across the UK economy:

  1. A dramatic shift away from fossil fuels and toward low carbon alternatives in the way that electricity is generated, including renewable, nuclear, and fossil fuel power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage;
  2. A step change in the way homes and businesses are heated and how they are insulated, away from gas boilers to low carbon alternatives such as heat pumps; and
  3. A step change in the way people travel, with more people using public transportation and finding substitutes for some journeys. The greatest change would be to road transport, reducing emissions from petrol and diesel engines and moving toward alternative technologies such as electric vehicles.

A range of actions and deadlines that government departments will need to meet are set, including:

  • Legislation to create a floor price in carbon brought forward, as appropriate, by April 2011;
  • The award of a contract by DECC for the first UK carbon capture and storage demonstration by the end of 2011, together with the identification of further demonstration projects by May 2012;
  • A new green investment bank made operational by the Department of Business by September 2012;
  • Development by the Department for Transport, by June 2011, of a nationwide strategy to promote the installation of electric vehicle infrastructure;
  • A 10 percent reduction in the central government's annual greenhouse gas emissions by May 2011; and
  • The launching by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs of a project to develop and trial methods of delivering integrated advice on farming, including advice on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Commentators have already suggested that the draft Carbon Plan includes little detail on specific policy mechanisms and almost a total absence of quantitative data. Responses to the draft Plan should be sent to CarbonPlan@dcc.gsi.gov.uk by July 31, 2011.