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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain should abandon plans to review its fourth carbon emissions budget next year, or at least promise not to weaken it, MPs said in a report on Tuesday.
Britain has set legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions over four five-year periods to 2027, known as carbon budgets, which aim to put it on track towards cutting emissions by 80 percent by the middle of the century.
In 2011, the government set its fourth carbon budget to cover the period 2023 to 2027, which would require an emissions cut of 50 percent from 1990 levels.
However, it said it would decide in 2014 whether the budget should be revised to reflect progress on cutting emissions in the European Union.
Since 2011, the price of European Union carbon permits has halved to around 5 euros a tonne due to economic downturn and the over-supply of permits. This has prompted the European Commission to propose a short-term solution of cutting the supply of permits, which still has to be passed by member states, and longer-term structural reform measures, which have not yet been agreed on either.
In addition, global carbon dioxide emissions have hit record highs, and a U.N. panel of scientists has said the evidence has strengthened that action is needed to avoid dangerous climate change.
"There are too many uncertainties at the moment to justify reviewing and making any change to the 2023-2027 fourth carbon budget," parliament's green watchdog, the Environmental Audit Committee, said in the report. "We recommend that the government abandon its review."
The EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS) is currently legislated to run until 2020 and it is too soon to know what the scheme will look like after that, the committee said.
The government has also yet to decide what range of emissions reductions might be possible from transport, low-carbon heat and other areas.
If the government is unwilling to abandon its review of the budget, it should not water it down as it represents the minimum needed to ensure its 2050 target is met, the committee said.
"Some commentators are intent on spinning recent developments in climate science to suggest we can relax our efforts to cut carbon, in the mistaken belief that this would be better for our economy," Joan Walley, the committee's chairwoman, said in a statement.
"Given that emissions are currently not falling fast enough to prevent a dangerous destabilisation of the global climate in the coming decades, it would be incredibly short-sighted to slacken our carbon budgets now."
There has been controversy recently over an apparent disconnection between rising emissions and the fact that temperatures have risen more slowly over the past 15 years than previously predicted.
In a major report last month, the scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change said the hiatus in warming was a natural variation that would not last, and that extreme weather events would increase.
Editing by Kevin Liffey