Government accused of pitiful failure to meet target for greenhouse gas emissions
David Adam and Terry Macalister
Wednesday March 29, 2006
Scientists, environmental campaigners and opposition politicians yesterday issued a scathing response to the government's admission that it will fail to meet a key target to cut greenhouse gas pollution. They called the results of an 18-month review of climate change policies "pitiful" and accused ministers of lacking the political will to tackle global warming.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, confirmed that measures to reduce emissions are now projected to cut UK carbon dioxide pollution by 15%-18% below 1990 levels by 2010. The government had pledged to reduce it by 20%.
"I regret that we haven't identified just in this programme precisely the full range of measures that will get us to the 20%," she said. "But as we have all made clear, a great range of actions has been undertaken and there will be more. If ever there was a subject in which a government alone cannot deliver this is it."
She blamed recent rises in carbon emissions on economic growth and increased energy prices which forced power generators to switch from gas to more polluting coal. "We need a national effort to meet these goals and complement government action. People can look at their own behaviour and how they can support us."
Peter Ainsworth, the shadow environment secretary, said: "The review is a grim admission of failure on what was meant to be one of Mr Blair's top priorities. Worse still, it fails to chart a course which will get us back on track."
Charlie Kronick, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace, said: "This review is pitiful. CO2 emissions are rising, the target's getting further away and the government has introduced no new measures to combat this."
Bill Maguire, an expert in natural disasters at University College London, said: "The government talks a good game when it comes to climate change, but there is simply not enough action. We cannot get away any longer with preaching about the horrors of climate change to the rest of the world when we are not placing sufficient emphasis on tackling the problem at home." If aircraft and shipping are included, then UK emissions in 2005 were higher than in 1990.
The prime minister tried to regain the initiative last night by telling a climate change conference in New Zealand that he would push for a new international framework to replace the Kyoto protocol when it expires at the end of 2012. Tony Blair's spokesman said the prime minister - who was addressing the climate change conference in Wellington by videolink - would be mounting a push for a new comprehensive international agreement. He said Mr Blair wanted to to use this summer's G8 summit in St Petersburg to bring in countries such as the US, China and India, which did not sign up to Kyoto.
The review lists a series of measures aimed at saving an additional 7m-12m tonnes of carbon by 2010. It includes schemes to reduce emissions through increased energy efficiency and burning biomass. It reveals that a dispute between government departments about pollution caps imposed on industry under a European emissions trading scheme has not been settled. The review estimates the carbon saving from the second phase of the scheme as between 3m and 8m tonnes, reflecting the conflicting views of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Ministers appear to have ruled out dozens of options proposed in a draft of the review passed to the Guardian last year, which included a crackdown on motorway speeding, a mandatory UK emissions trading scheme and turning the clocks forward an hour.
Some observers questioned whether even the lower projected savings detailed in the review are achievable. Lord Rees of Ludlow, president of the Royal Society, said: "The government appears to be pinning its hopes on measures that haven't delivered in the past."
The rising cost of steel has hit the construction of offshore wind turbines: only three of 18 sites that should have opened by the start of the year are operational. Figures from the Society of British Gas Industries show that fewer people than expected are switching to energy efficient condensing boilers. And the Renewable Energy Association says that a move to mix ethanol into petrol is threatened by weak penalties for companies that fail to comply.
Friends of the Earth said the lower cap suggested for the next phase of the European emissions trading scheme would allow industry to pollute even more. Tony Juniper, its director, said: "They've stretched this to the limits of credibility to get it as close as possible to 20%."
The government yesterday also outlined plans to increase local energy production and cut carbon emissions by encouraging householders, small businesses and even schools to use solar panels and small wind turbines to create their own "micropower" systems.
A further £50m was committed in the budget to help develop a low-carbon building programme and ministers promised to overcome barriers such as cost, information awareness and easy access to the national electricity grid.
Electricity suppliers are being encouraged to develop a scheme that would reward home generators that "export" excess electricity, while local planning laws will be reviewed to make sure new projects are encouraged.
"In days gone by we would fill our coal scuttle or collect wood for the fire, whereas now we would just flick on a switch and expect everything to work," the energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, will tell a power conference today. "This distance from energy source leads to waste, but by having microgeneration technologies present in our homes and buildings we reconnect with how much we're using - and abusing - and find ways of being more efficient with it."
The new strategy also includes a "route map" for developing solar and wind power and other types of technology.