Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Climate change: binding domestic targets in the UK

Over in the UK, the Labour and Conservative parties are fighting tooth and nail for the green vote. The Conservatives have proposed a range of green taxes, including a tax on air travel; Labour has responded with a bill which would set legally binding domestic emissions reduction targets, with the aim of reducing emissions by 26% from 1990 levels by 2020, and 60% from 1990 levels by 2050.

The bill would follow the system of the Kyoto Protocol, with caps set on total emissions over five year periods to reduce the impact of climatic and economic variability. While the UK Greens and Lib Dems favour annual targets, given the impact of the weather on electricity usage and hence on emissions, some averaging seems justified. As for the targets themselves, they seem a little lax. The 2020 target is below the EU's offer of a 30% overall cut, and in the context of EU projections showing that the UK will have reduced its net emissions by 23.7% from 1990 levels by 2010 (and current data showing it has already reduced them by 14.8%), seems to be a target of "business as usual" and aimed more at putting a stake in the ground about future EU burden-sharing targets than at serious emissions reduction. As for the long-term, scientists are now talking of a 60 - 80 percent reduction being necessary; the choice of a target at the lower end of this range seems to be an undercommitment.

The bill [PDF] would also establish a committee on climate change to provide advice on policies and targets, and create regulatory powers to enable the government to introduce domestic emissions trading schemes. While I agree with the policy aims, this smacks of the usual New Labour attempt to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny. While at times slow, the Parliamentary process ensures that policy is at least legitimate - something which can not be said for policies implemented unilaterally by ministerial fiat.

Overall though, the British government is at least making a clear commitment to act, even if they are arguably setting their targets too low. And if Helen Clark is serious about going carbon-neutral in the long-term, a local version of this bill might not be a bad start.