UK releases climate change bill

Published: Sunday 15 April 2007

on march 13, 2007, the uk government released a draft Climate Change Bill, the first of its kind, which will make reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in the country legally binding.

The bill has set a target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26-32 per cent by 2020 and up to 60 per cent by 2050 of 1990 levels. It will have a legally binding five-year "carbon budget" that will be set 15 years ahead.

In case the government fails to meet the targets or exceeds the five-year carbon budget, it can be taken to court. Under the provisions of the bill, a committee on climate change will be set up to provide independent expert advice and guidance to the government on achieving its targets and staying within its carbon budgets. The committee will provide annual progress reports and hold the government accountable for its progress towards the five-year goal.The bill also includes new trading schemes for sectors not included in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. The draft bill will go through public consultations and parliamentary debate before a vote in 2008.

uk prime minister Tony Blair called the bill a "revolutionary step". It seeks to achieve two goals demonstrating leadership through action at home, while continuing to work for a strong international agreement post-2012, said uk environment minister David Miliband. All sectors of the society will have to contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy, but this does not mean a reduction in living standards, he added.
The debate Although most people have welcomed the bill, it has also generated controversy. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, together with environment groups, have asked for annual rather than five-year targets. Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary Chris Huhne argued that five-yearly targets would mean that a government taking over from one that had failed to meet its targets would have to pay for its predecessor's failures.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone backed yearly targets. He also proposed personal carbon allowances, penalising unsustainable lifestyles and rewarding ones that helped cut emissions.

Some activists panned some provisions of the bill. "The proposed target of a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 does not go far enough, and should be revised upwards to 75 per cent," said the World Wide Fund for Nature. Charity organisation Christian Aid asked for an 80 per cent cut by 2050 with annual targets to check progress. Tearfund, a Christian relief and development agency, and environment ngo Friends of the Earth asked for annual targets of 3 per cent cuts. The World Development Movement, a uk lobby group, asked for the aviation and shipping industries to be included in the bill.

"The new target for 2020 is "26 per cent to 32 per cent"...It means the legal target is really 26 per cent, well below the level required to get the government on track towards its 2050 goal," wrote environment campaigner George Monbiot, in The Guardian.
Response The government has rejected annual targets calling it rigid and impractical since such targets do not make allowances for annual variations in weather and economic conditions. "We are not going for annual targets. We think annual targets are silly--they are gesture politics rather than real policy," said Miliband.

The five-year targets have been welcomed by industry, with Richard Lambert of the Confederation of British Industry, uk's leading employers' organisation, saying they will provide the necessary flexibility.

There is a question of achievability, though.Under the Kyoto Protocol, the uk has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012. But the uk Climate Change Programme had set a target to reduce emissions by 20 per cent from the 1990 levels by 2010. Official projections show the government is not on track to achieve this.

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