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The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has warned that the Government’s objectives for taking forward international action on climate change are "dismally unambitious". Meanwhile, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is calling for a Minister for climate change to ensure that the issue is "put at the very heart of Government".
The Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry focused on the UK’s self-appointed role as an international leader on climate change. Prime Minister Tony Blair has made climate change and Africa the two key priorities for this year’s G8 Presidency (ENDS Report 356, pp 4-5 ). The MPs argue that the threat of climate change is so severe that "Governments must act as a matter of urgency and on an unprecedented
scale: a Marshall plan for climate change is now required." Meeting the challenge "demands a degree of political commitment which is virtually unprecedented" - and, in a dig at Mr Blair, the Committee warns that "leadership on this issue calls for something more than pragmatism or posturing."
The International Energy Agency predicts that global emissions of greenhouse gases will increase by over 60% between 2002 and 2030 - and by 33% even under a scenario in which governments impose tougher environmental policies. The Committee points to a "yawning chasm" between these figures and scientists’ warnings that global emissions need to peak within 20-30 years to avoid "catastrophic climate change impacts" (ENDS Report 361, pp 17-21 ).
Set against the scale of this challenge, the MPs conclude that the Government’s G8 objectives are "dismally unambitious". Indeed, they claim that the Government’s focus on climate change science and the development of low carbon technologies "is creating the appearance of activity whilst evading the harder national and international political decisions which must be made if there is to be any solution."
The Committee urges the Government not to see its role "as being simply to broker international discussion", but to provide leadership by "promoting specific objectives and targets". It should press for agreement on more challenging absolute emission reduction targets to succeed the existing Kyoto Protocol goals, and endorse the approach towards future commitment periods proposed by the International Climate Change Task Force (ENDS Report 361, p 20).
Most significantly, the Committee urges the Government to commit itself to "contraction and convergence" as the framework for the negotiation of future international agreements, and to actively seek support for this position in advance of the next UN climate summit at the end of this year.
Contraction and convergence, which has been promoted by the Global Commons Institute since 1990, defines the level to which global emissions need to be reduced and then allocates them to countries on an equal per capita basis. The Committee sees no "credible alternative", and notes that the Government implicitly accepted the approach when adopting the goal of a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
The Committee also raises important points on specific policy instruments:
EU emissions trading scheme: The MPs say that across the EU, allocation for the scheme’s first phase has seen a "race to the bottom". In the UK, the Confederation of British Industry is singled out for its "competitive and protectionist attitude" (ENDS Report 360, pp 30-31). The Committee says the Government’s scrap with the European Commission over the UK’s allocation plan has put it "in danger of wantonly squandering its reputation for leadership on climate change." It argues that the cost of the disputed allocation "pales into insignificance beside the £500 million a year in windfall profits [the power generators] are likely to earn from the scheme."
"Far tougher targets" will need to be set in the scheme’s second phase for 2008-12, and should be based on agreeing an overall cap for the EU.The MPs say that the Government should promote auctioning of allowances for the power sector, or else ensure that windfall profits are reinvested in renewable and low carbon technologies. The Committee urges the Government to use its EU Presidency to ensure
greater harmonisation between Member States on issues such as allocation methodologies and treatment of new entrants (see pp 43-44).
The MPs are "sceptical" of the desirability of including other sectors or greenhouse gases in the second phase. They fear that "a relatively small number of high-value projects could increase investment uncertainty and detract from efforts to move to a truly low carbon economy" - and argue that gases other than CO2 should be "addressed through regulation rather than trading".
Kyoto trading: The Government is confident that the UK will exceed its target under the Kyoto Protocol by a significant margin - although emissions data for 2004 suggest it is not home and dry (see pp 3-4 ). In its consultation on the review of the climate change programme, the Government asked whether it should sell any surplus on the international carbon market (ENDS Report 359, pp 48-49). The Committee says it "would be entirely inappropriate" to sell the surplus - which is likely to be worth billions of pounds, especially if the UK gets anywhere near its domestic goal to cut CO2 emissions by 20% from 1990 levels.
Environment Committee report: The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also reported on the Government’s climate change policies. It offers a fairly pedestrian tour of well-worn ground, with few pointed or novel recommendations. The most significant recommendation is that the Government should appoint a Minister for climate change, or else a Cabinet Committee, to focus and co-ordinate efforts across all Departments and to ensure that all parts of Whitehall are engaged with the seriousness of the issue.
Further information: 4th Report, Session 2004/05, The international challenge of climate change: UK leadership in the G8 and EU.
9th Report, Climate change: looking forward.
climate action now!