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80 is the right figure Mr Benn 30.10.07

Hilary Benn has signalled that the 60% cut in emissions by 2050 outlined in the draft Climate Change Bill is based on old figures and needs to be reconsidered. Aviation and shipping emissions ‘may’ also be considered at a later date. Come on Hilary get some backbone!

When originally published in March 2007, the draft Bill set out clear legally binding targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the UK by at least 60 per cent by 2050, and from 26 to 32 per cent by 2020. This is to be based on a new system of “carbon budgets” set at least 15 years ahead. It also proposed the creation of a new independent, expert Committee on Climate Change to advise on the best way to achieve these targets, and in theory hold the government accountable.

The Government may finally be starting to listen to the voices of the scientific community and the environmental campaigners if the recent words of Environment Secretary Hilary Benn are to be believed.

Mr Benn said: "We need to step up the fight against climate change and we need to do it fast. The draft bill we set out earlier this year and have now refined is a ground-breaking blueprint for moving the UK towards ea low carbon economy."

To do this Benn is proposing a stronger independent Committee on Climate Change, with its own CEO and analysts. He will ask the Committee to report back on whether the original Bill’s targets are sufficient, and on whether aviation and shipping should be included in the targets.

The problem however is that there still remains a number of doubts about how effective the bill will be.

The first is the glaring omission of aviation from the targets, while small compared to say the energy sector, aviation emissions are the fastest growing in the UK. To not include aviation and shipping effectively emasculates any serious attempt for the UK to effectively reduce its carbon foot print. By dodging this issue the Government is saying that it is not serious in it intentions.

According to David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, "All the science, including the government’s own assessments, tells us that to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change we must cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Ignoring emissions from aviation is like going on a diet which allows you to eat as much chocolate as you like. It would be quite unfair to push ahead with targets to reduce emissions from industry, road transport and housing, while turning a blind eye to major sectors of the economy such as aviation and shipping."

The Bill will set out the emissions reduction target for the next 15 years, in three five year stages. All well and good, although environmentalists are calling for an annual target of 3% as a five year target is all to easy to leave until the last minute, or for that matter for the next administration to sort out. The main problem is that the final target has not been agreed, the 60% by 2050 target originally proposed is now under debate as even the government accepts that it is based on outdated figures. How can short term targets be set when the long term target is unknown?

Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, says, "It is ludicrous that the government intends to set the UK carbon budget for the next 15 years based on targets it knows are out of date. We need to agree what cuts we are aiming to achieve before we start mapping out how we are going to get there."

Which leads on to the next major problem, how is it going to be enforced? What real power does the Committee on Climate Change actually have?

Yes the Government has to report to Parliament on its progress every year to meet the targets but what if it is off track. In theory of course the Government can be taken to court for not meeting its targets, but then what? Lock up the Prime Minster until she or he gets back in touch with their inner greenie- highly unlikely. Benn argues that the public embarrassment of not meeting its targets will force the government to act. Unfortunately the present administration has weathered worse storms and public embarrassment than not meeting it climate change, a Government that can go to war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction and cancel the British Aerospace enquiry into massive government supported bribery in the arms trade can facedown a missed emissions target before breakfast. Last but not least is that fact that the unwritten constitution of the UK means that Parlaiment can change any previous decision it takes by a simple majority- don’t like the targets the previous administration, or even your own set, well get the Whips to cattle prod enough MPs through the right door and the problem disappears. ‘Did we say 20%? Actually we have done jolly well to get to 5% and here is the new legislation to show we have met our targets!’ Peter Ainsworth, shadow environment secretary, said: "While we welcome the changes that have strengthened the climate change bill, it alone will not reduce our carbon emissions ... The whole point of the bill is to change the mindset so that climate change is not an add-on, but central to the way the government thinks and acts. The government must now ensure that its policies match up to its rhetoric”

Benn’s words come on the same day as the House of Commons Audit Committee recommends the creation of a Cabinet responsibility for Climate Change. Tim Yoel, the Environment Audit Committee Chair said, “The way the Government has addressed climate change has led to a confusing framework that doesn’t promote effective action to cut emissions.”

That sort of sums it up, confused. Does the Government actually want to do something about climate change or be seen to make the right gestures while avoiding the tough decisions that are required.

Car emissions, road building, airport expansions, taxing aviation fuel, renewable energy, every time a decision ahs to be made at either a national level or a European level the Government can be found siding not with it citizens but with the corporate lobbies.

When the UK first went along the road of the Climate Change Bill it was a revolutionary step and clearly placed the UK at the centre of the debate, since then despite an enormous lobbying action by the environment lobby it has quietly gone along with business as usual, however there is still time to pull the Bill back from an a light green fudge to a clear statement that the UK is serious about climate change.

Tony Jupiter from Friends of the Earth says, “The government is getting ever closer to introducing a truly ground breaking piece of legislation. However, The bill needs to be beefed up if it is going to deliver the cuts which science tells us is needed.”

Peter Shield

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