John Bull takes climate change by the horns

We’re the ones with the Greens in Government, yet it’s Britain that has gone and set up a new department of Energy and Climate, headed by Ed Miliband. The UK is also to adopt a more severe target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, increasing this to 80% from its previous 60%. These are seriously ambitious targets that, to be delivered, will require no less than the re-engineering of British society.

Toughening up the targets was done in the teeth of intense industry lobbying to dilute the EU’s ambitious climate change plans, including tough carbon caps. Predictably, lobby groups for businesses argue that cutting carbon emissions will jack up fuel bills, but Miliband has stuck firmly to the line expounded in the Stern Review from 2006, and that is that the costs of inaction on climate change were far greater. Miliband’s next job is to set out exactly how this can be done.

“In tough economic times, some people will ask whether we should retreat from our climate change objectives. In our view, it would be quite wrong to row back”, said Miliband. His comments are a shot in the arm for EU leaders who have been battling to keep a December deadline to agree EU-wide energy and climate proposals on the table, and keep to a target to cut emissions by a fifth by 2020.

The spectre of a deep looming recession is making many in Europe, especially new members such as Poland (they of the large coal deposits) very jumpy. The emissions targets would apply to all six greenhouse gases defined under the Kyoto Protocol, not just CO2, as had been the case.

Concessions have already been agreed for some heavy industry and coal-dependent former communist countries. What’s most important about what Britain is now doing is that its government is making its new targets binding by amending its Climate Change Bill. Even the environmentalists, to date sceptical of much of the New Labour spin, are singing the praises of this new approach.

“In a decade in power Labor has never adopted a target so ambitious, far-reaching and internationally significant as this,” said Dr Doug Parr of Greenpeace. An amendment to Britain’s energy law being discussed would introduce ‘feed in’ tariffs for small-scale renewable energy generation.

These feed-in tariffs pay people a premium to generate “green” electricity and feed this back into the national grid, earning them a profit which helps to pay for installing solar panels, wind turbines, groundwater heating systems and other sources. Noises have been made in this direction in Ireland, but nothing so clearcut as this.

A couple of months ago, Gordon Brown was a political Dead Man Walking, now cometh the (economic) crisis, cometh the man. Clearly, for a leader well known to find environmental issue worthy-but-dull, he has had a Pauline conversion along the way. What hope our own Mr Cowen might follow suit? Two chances woul

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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