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A welcome announcement on climate change
18/05/2011 10:58:00

The Climate Change Act 2008, passed by the last Government with cross party support, set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 (this is the level of reduction that scientists believe is necessary to avoid serious climate change).

The Act also requires the Government to set carbon budgets - limits on greenhouse gas emissions in the UK - for consecutive five-year periods. These budgets must be set at least three budget periods in advance, providing staging posts to the 2050 target. The first three budgets were set by the previous Government in 2009 based on advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change. The fourth budget - the limit on emissions for the five year period from 2023 to 2027 - has to be set by the end of next month.

There has been a lot of speculation that the Government would reject the independent Committee's advice that we should be aiming for a 50% reduction on 1990 levels by 2025 and set a higher limit, calling into question its ambition to be the greenest government ever. I am delighted that yesterday the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, made it clear that this was not the case - the Government has accepted the Committee's advice.

He made two concessions to those who are concerned about the potential impact on our economy, both eminently sensible. First, that there will be a review in early 2014 to make sure that we aren't going further than our European competitors, putting us at a competitive disadvantage; and second, that there will be a package of measures to help energy intensive industries to adjust.

The Government will shorlty be setting out in detail the policies required to deliver this budget but they include reforming the electricity market, making homes and businesses more energy efficient, encouraging the take-up of ultra-low carbon cars and setting up a Green Investment Bank. The Secretary of State told the House that if oil prices remain at their current very high levels, this package of measures will actually be cheaper for consumers.

All in all, a welcome announcement that underlines this coalition government's green credentials.

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Readers' Comments

On 19/05/2011 13:33:00 Croydonsfuture wrote:
Bravo! A Government decision that is brave, wise and necessary. It is part of the human condition to put off difficult choices. However, in the case of climate change, the great body of scientific evidence is that deferment will unleash dire consequences – possibly in as short a timeframe as 100 years.

The Government is to be commended for its action – especially in the face of the continuing criticism from two groups: the “climate change deniers” and the vested interest of energy intensive industries.

The climate change deniers provide countless conspiracy theories that global warming is a huge hoax. But the undisputed scientific evidence shows:

• Atmospheric CO2 levels are higher than they have been for 800,000 years (and possibly even as long ago as 20 million years).

• Historic CO2 levels show a strong correlation with global temperature.

• CO2 persists in the atmosphere for about 1,000 years.

Given the scientific evidence, the climate change deniers’ exhortation that it should be “business as usual” is just plain irresponsible.

Of more concern is the criticism and lobbying by vested interests in energy intensive industries. One of the key arguments of this group is that Britain may put itself at a commercial disadvantage as against other countries if Britain plays by the rules but other countries do not. Worryingly, this lobbying effort seems to have swayed George Osborne and Vince Cable.

The stance of the industry lobby group is reminiscent of the slavery lobby in the run up to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. The slavery lobby argued that Britain would be put at a commercial disadvantage. In reality, Britain’s enlightened and brave enactment of the 1833 legislation provided the catalyst for the global abolition of slavery. The parallels of climate change with slavery are striking: Britain by taking a pioneering lead is setting the pace for the global community. It should be a source of intense pride for every Briton that our country is the first in the world to set legally binding commitments to reduce carbon into the 2020s. Also, the truth is that if Britain had not taken the lead on the pioneering Kyoto Protocol, then reluctant – but vital – countries such as the United States would not have committed to reducing their emissions.

The target of a 50% cut in emissions by 2027 is real progress – for which the government is to be applauded. However, on emissions – as indeed everything in life – there is no “free lunch”. As a society, we have become addicted to cheap fossil fuel. The clean alternatives are more expensive. Both industry and households face substantially higher energy costs in moving to clean energy. There is therefore the danger that unless the legislation is watertight with minimum “wriggle room”, the targets will be merely aspirations with little real progress achieved.

The targets provide a clear objective. However, the targets can only be achieved through clear and well implemented policies. It is of concern that the Government has cut the public funds for clean energy technologies such as carbon capture and solar power. Also, the new Green Bank – crucial for getting the investment to replace Britain's ageing power plants - will not be able to borrow money for renewable energy projects until 2015. The Government must always be mindful that the targets will only be achieved through well thought out and vigorously implemented action.

As noted above, a transition to clean energy means substantially higher power and heating bills. Domestic consumers are already seeing this effect – both from historically high fossil fuel prices and a rapidly growing “green tax” on energy supplies. However, energy costs are regressive in that they impose a much greater burden (as a proportion of income) on our poor. The transition to clean energy must ensure that the most vulnerable in our society can afford their more costly energy supplies.

Finally, it gives cause for optimism that on climate change, one of the rarest of situations exists in British politics: a broad consensus of the leading political parties and the general public that decisive action is needed. But a broad consensus does not always last. It therefore seems wise to make all haste in taking firm action given the current high levels of political and public agreement.




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Gavin Barwell, 133 Wickham Road, CR0 8TE, Tel  020 8663 8741      © Gavin Barwell  2019       Promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of Gavin Barwell, both at 36 Brighton Road, Purley, CR8 2LG