Azara Blog: Yet another report on reducing UK emissions

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Date published: 2008/12/02

The BBC says:

Official advisers to the UK government have demanded Britain slash greenhouse gases by a fifth of current levels by 2020 - the toughest target so far.

The Committee on Climate Change said a cut of 21% on 2005 levels was needed for the UK to play its fair share in combating dangerous change.

It proposes firm carbon budgets for the next three five-year periods.

It is believed to be the first time any major nation has attempted such a move. Ministers are considering the report.

If the budgets work, they could be copied worldwide.

The independent committee recommends that by 2020 it should be made almost impossible to burn coal for electricity without technology to capture and store the carbon emissions.

This has major implications for the UK's energy policy.

The report says fuel will inevitably become more expensive to achieve the carbon targets. But it says the government will need to compensate poor households rather than trying to keep prices down.

To make the targets even harder for the government, the committee recommends the UK should not be able to buy its way out of its obligations by paying poor countries to cut carbon on our behalf.

Until now, the government has been planning to buy up to half of our carbon credits.

The report has been generally welcomed by environmentalists, but they are angry that the committee has not set any specific targets for aviation - the fastest-growing source of emissions.

The committee has put aviation into the overall carbon budget but exempted it from specific targets until disputes over responsibility for international aviation emissions have been resolved.

Greenpeace said the advice on coal-fired power stations meant the end of plans to build new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent.

"Assuming the government accepts the advice of its own climate change committee, Kingsnorth is dead in the water," said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK.

"Eon's investors and the company's executives will read the Turner report with sweaty palms, as their coal plans don't even come close to satisfying the new standards the committee is demanding."

Lord Turner, the committee chairman, said the cuts could be achieved without compromising our lifestyles or economy: "The reductions can be achieved at very low cost (an estimated 1% loss of GDP growth in 2020). The cost of not achieving the reductions at a national and global level will be far greater."

This report says nothing new, and is just the latest such report produced by endless quango after endless consultancy. Like all such quangos and consultancies, there are no people on the committee who have any substantive real-world experience (the chair, Adair Turner, was at McKinsey for many years, but that is just a consultancy). The major difference is that this quango has some statutory power, so the government has to pay some attention to what the CCC says.

The BBC report is (surprise) somewhat misleading. So the alleged 21% cut from 2005 levels (34% from 1990 levels, which is what the Kyoto Treaty is based on) is only for the so-called interim budget. The committee is actually recommending a 31% cut from 2005 levels (42% from 1990 levels), if the rest of the world plays game (in some unspecified way).

The committee (surprise) expects that a lot of emission reductions will come about through efficiency. With respect to transport, this efficiency will not only be because of increases in mileage per unit of fuel (e.g. because cars will be forced to become smaller and lighter), but magically through "changed driver behaviour, modal shift and better journey planning". The first and last phrases are a bit of a joke, and the "modal shift" category means that they are going to force poor people out of their cars via tax. Hardly a revolutionary (or fair) proposal.

The Greenpeace spokesman is also talking through his hat (presumably because he has to get his propaganda points in). The report will not really make Kingsnorth unfeasible. The report says "Conventional coal-fired power generation should only be built on the expectation that it will be retrofitted with CCS equipment by the early 2020s." Eon can easily give weasel words to that effect.

Of course most so-called environmentalists hate nuclear power even more than they hate coal. But the CCC report is relatively pro-nuclear power, and amazingly enough the BBC completely ignores this point.

Like all such reports, the committee claims that there is hardly any economic cost at all from doing all these wonderful things. Well, it's quite possibly true, but that remains to be seen. It's equally likely that Britain will decline into relative world poverty by 2050 (and so automatically meet all these targets), because Britain is dominated by people who write reports rather than people who do things.

And as with most of the British ruling elite, the committee is not interested in looking after the interests of the citizens of the UK. They say "The appropriate UK share of a global emissions target involves ethical judgements and will be the subject of international negotiations. But we believe that it is difficult to imagine a global deal which allows developed countries to have emissions per capita in 2050 which are significantly above a sustainable global average."

Of course per capita emissions are not a particularly fair way to look at anything. It rewards countries which irresponsibly have allowed, and continue to allow, their population to explode. Why should the workers of Britain be asked to make sacrifices so that other countries can behave irresponsibly? Why are the British ruling elite not looking after the interests of the citizens of Britain?

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