UK first to set legally-binding carbon targets

From The Sydney Morning Herald, Wed 14 March 2007

Britain has become the first country to propose legislation setting binding limits on greenhouse gases as it stepped up its campaign for a new global warming pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

In its draft Climate Change Bill, the government said carbon dioxide emissions had to be cut by at least 60 per cent by 2050, set out five-year carbon budgets to reach the target and created an independent monitoring committee to check annual progress.

Prime Minister Tony Blair put climate change at the top of the international agenda when Britain was head of the Group of Eight industrialised nations in 2005 and it could now become the first nation to limit emissions by statute.

“This bill is an international landmark,” Environment Minister David Miliband told a news conference.

“It is the first time any country has set itself legally-binding carbon targets. It is an environmental contract for future generations.”

The draft bill also sets a legally-binding interim target for carbon cuts of 26 to 32 per cent by 2020.

Miliband said failure to meet targets could land governments in court. “Governments that fail to meet the stipulations of the bill will be subject to judicial review. It will be for the courts to decide what sanctions to apply,” he said.

Environmentalists welcomed the carbon cut budgets, which require any overshoot in a given year to be recouped later.

The draft bill will go to three months of public and parliamentary consultation before becoming law next year, but green campaigners want to raise the 2050 target to 80 per cent and set annual three per cent cut targets to ensure compliance.

The UK government rejects annual targets as being too rigid to make allowances for climate variations from year to year.

Andrew Pendleton, senior climate policy officer at charity Christian Aid, praised the bill but said: “If the final legislation is not significantly stronger, the process would represent a massive lost opportunity. It is the first step on a long journey.”

Edward Hanna, senior lecturer in Climate Change at the University of Sheffield was also unimpressed: “(It) doesn’t go far enough, fast enough, to confidently combat the significant threats posed by human-induced global warming. I fear that as we are closing the stable door, the horse has already bolted.”

The Kyoto Protocol is a global pact on tackling carbon gas emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport that scientists say will boost average temperatures by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century. It runs out in 2012.

Britain and Germany are leading the charge to extend Kyoto and expand its scope to bring in Australia and the United States which rejected it in 2001, and boom economies such as China and India, which – although signatories – are not bound by it.

The British draft bill comes after European Union leaders agreed last week to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

The government stressed individual behaviour needed to change and people needed incentives to reduce carbon footprints and become energy producers as well as consumers.



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