Archive for September, 2007


If we ever want to bring ourselves back from the brink, and tackle the big nasty monster that is climate change, then we need our political leaders to lead the way.

There is only so much I can do as a citizen. I can stop driving, flying, using excess electricity. I could go and live in a cave. Every person who was concerned could do a few of these things, and we would make a small dent in the carbon production of this country. But to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to some kind of safe level we need to government to do everything they can to help.

Ideally this would mean that they would agree to legally binding targets to meet over the coming years (with inter-party agreement if possible) that would change in accordance with scientific recommendations in the future. Luckily, the Labour government likes targets.

The draft climate change bill, which came out this year, seemed to be fairly ambitious. It stated that it’s main aim was to ensure that the UK’s carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 60% lower than it was in 1990. It’s other aims included establishing a committee on climate change and to “provide for a system of carbon budgeting”(1).

The problem with the target is that it isn’t good enough. A 60% sure sounds like a lot, but unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of choosing. The target has to be dictated by the science, and the science is saying that 60% won’t be enough. The Government is working on 550 parts per million as a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This level assumes that major ‘tipping points’ will not be reached before this occurs, and a level of 450ppm would be more advisable. Adjusting the Governments targets with this in mind would mean that an 80% cut would need to be made by 2050 (2).

Not only that, the target doesn’t include aviation and shipping. We all know how damaging flying across the world is for the environment, and yet this sector will be able to carry on regardless if the bill goes through as it is. Aviation is the biggest growing area of carbon emissions, and we can’t afford to leave it out, as scientists at the Tyndall Centre have already made clear(3).

Oh, and another thing. Carbon isn’t the only greenhouse gas. There’s also nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons to think about. How about thinking about those too?

Luckily, the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill spotted these things when they made their report. Their recommendations included reviewing the target in accordance with the changing science, including aviation, including details of all greenhouse gases, and publishing reasoning behind targets along with the targets themselves. They suggested the government should get back to them within two months (4).

While we all wait to see what happens next, Cambridge Econometrics, an independent think tank, has been busy trying to predict whether the government is going to make its own targets. It’s report, which came out on 23rd August, was disappointing. It’s main conclusions were that –
• The Government will miss its target of 20% carbon reduction by 2010 by a long way, and may only manage a 15% reduction by 2020.
• It will also miss its target of 10% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2010 and 15% by 2015. The report predicts 5% and 12% respectively.
• The Department for Trade and Industry predict that greenhouse gas emissions will be 25-31% lower by 2020. The report predicts a reduction of 22.5% (5).
Great. So even if we do manage to get the necessary targets into the Climate Change Bill, the Government is being pretty slack in making sure we head towards those targets, and are over-estimating their projected progress.

The Government has rightly been praised for what seems like an ambitious response to the problem of climate change, but this will soon mean nothing if it is not backed up by equally impressive action. This will require some tough decisions and will inevitably annoy a few people, but put in the context of what is at stake, they must surely see that there is no choice.


1. Draft Climate Change Bill, March 2007.

2.”How we can save the planet” – Mayer Hillman, Penguin Books 2004.

3. “Heathrow – the most important protest of our time” – marklynas.org.

4. Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill, July 2007.

5. UK Energy and Environment Report – Cambridge Econometrics, August 2007.

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