Friday, August 03, 2007

A business friendly climate Bill

The Climate Change Bill is, above all, business friendly. In fact, it is so weak that a Commons committee this week published a damning indictment of the Bill, criticising all of its key proposals and accusing it of incoherence. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) points out that while the government claims to be committed to actions that will contribute to keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees centigrade, the targets set out in the Bill – the government is aiming for a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 - cannot possibly achieve that. As Dr Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre told the EAC: “The scientific evidence is that 60% is a nice idea and helps us to sleep a little bit at night, but it has very little to do with climate change… we need to go well beyond the 60%.”

The EAC also took on board the Tyndall Centre’s point that since CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 100 years, we are paying the price now for past failures. Reduction targets, the committee argued, should be steeper in the early years of the programme, as set out in the Stern review. But the government has no intention of adopting this approach, and it is clear why. The manufacturing employers’ federation in its evidence to the EAC welcomed the fact they are going to be given plenty of time before they have to make serious reductions, and argued that any requirement for steeper cuts should be delayed. So its is not so much incoherence that is the problem as the fact that this is a Climate Change Bill for business. It puts economic competitiveness and fiscal performance ahead of scientific knowledge and ahead of the lives of people in Britain.

For example, it says that targets will not be increased between now and 2050 even if it becomes clear that the measures taken are proving ineffective. They will only be changed if some new technology emerges that will make it easy to achieve greater reductions. And the new “independent” Climate Change Committee that is to be set up to monitor targets will mainly be drawn from business rather than science. As the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told the EAC: “We are concerned that the first set of skills and experience that are being asked for relates to understanding of pure economics or of impacts on fiscal issues and poverty.” They suggested that perhaps an understanding of environmental issues might also be useful!

Furthermore, the criteria the new committee will be allowed to take into account when they monitor the government’s progress are competitiveness, fiscal impacts, impacts on public borrowing and taxation and so on. The only thing missing from the list is the growing impact of climate change! The EAC report concludes: “It is clear to us that the government will have to introduce more radical policies into its climate change programme very soon if it is to meet even the 2020 target as currently set. Current measures, including those introduced by the recent Energy White Paper, are only projected to get us nearly to the bottom end of 2020 target range – and this at what the Office of Climate Change described to us as ‘the upper end of optimism’.” Believing that this New Labour government is going to take any action to reduce emissions beyond that dictated by the needs of big business – now that’s the upper end of optimism!

Penny Cole, environment editor

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