MPs call for action on Climate Change Strategy

The UK Government's claims that Britain is making notable progress on the global warming and air quality fronts have been challenged in a new report from a Commons Select committee which warns that the climate change strategy is "seriously off course." In this special air quality feature LAWE reviews the issues and reports on developments in air monitoring equipment and examines the role of "green fuels" in reducing pollution.

Britain will use its influence as head of two major international bodies to boost efforts to combat climate change and pollution, Environment Minister Lord Whitty told a London conference on 23 August.. He said the UK would use its position as chair of the G8 group of nations next year and its forthcoming EU Presidency to push the climate change agenda at the highest level "in every way we can".

Speaking at the World Clean Air and Environmental Protection Congress in London, Lord Whitty said: "Internationally our first priority is climate change, in the long term probably the most important issue we face as a global community. "It is important that we present a clear case for concerted action on climate change to the G8 next year, and the same will apply to our presidency of the EU. It's important that the case is made and action taken.

"Climate change is already happening due to the release of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. The UK is one of the strongest supporters of the Kyoto Protocol to cut emissions worldwide. Enormous challenges remain, however. "We are thinking long-term, " the Minister told delegates. "The government's Energy White Paper sets a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 60% by 2050. Other developed countries must follow suit. We need a global shift in the way we produce energy. We need a low-carbon economy."

Britain is showing what can be done to meet Kyoto targets. Latest estimates suggest that UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 were about 14 % below 1990 levels, with carbon dioxide emissions for 2003 estimated about 7% lower than in 1990.

MPs criticise strategy

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee took a very different view of progress, however, in its recent report on the Budget 2004 and Energy, stating "The Government's Climate Change Strategy is seriously off course; and current policies have yet to make a significant impact on UK carbon emissions."

The MPs also concluded that "A more imaginative and radical strategy - in particular for transport and domestic energy efficiency - is needed.."

Other key points in the report were:

  • The Treasury cannot expect industry to provide investment in alternative fuels unless it has a long term strategy itself
  • Politicians have failed to make the case for the environmental benefits of taxing fuel, and despite recent oil price rises, petrol is still at least 10% cheaper than four years ago in real terms
  • The Government should consider recycling the proceeds of future fuel tax increases to subsidise public transport spending and alternatives to conventional fuel.

    The Chairman of the Committee, Peter Ainsworth MP, commented: "It is increasingly obvious that we are going to fall far short of the UK carbon reduction target, and a key problem area is transport.

    "If the Government's commitment to sustainable development is to be taken seriously, it must take more radical action. It is also disappointing that the Treasury has done so little to promote domestic energy efficiency - despite two consultations on this topic in the last two years. He said: "There is an urgent need to look afresh at the scale of the challenges we face and develop an adequate response."

    Other inquiry conclusions and recommendations (not reproduced in full) included:

  • As a percentage of total tax, the revenues from environmental taxes have recently been at their lowest level since 1993.
  • The continued growth of carbon emissions from transport remains one of the most serious problems we face, and the Government's commitment to sustainable development will be called into question unless it takes steps to confront this issue. We urge the Government to implement the planned rise in fuel duty at the earliest opportunity.
  • We are disappointed that the Future of Transport White Paper had nothing new to say on the practical steps the Department for Transport would take to tackle carbon emissions from transport and to promote a shift to a low carbon economy. It will take 10 to 15 years to introduce road charging on a national basis and such a regime would be far more of a blunt instrument than the present system, where larger differentials in rates of fuel duties and VED can potentially be used to promote a shift to low-carbon vehicles.

  • It is unfortunate that the Energy Efficiency Action Plan has had to be produced before a number of key evaluations on which it should have been based - including Spending Review 2004, the revised DTI Energy Projections, and the review of the Climate Change Programme.

    As a result, it is impossible to assess to what extent the measures it contains are sufficient to deliver the absolute emission levels required, or even unclear whether the various components of the Plan will indeed deliver their forecast benefits.

  • We recommend that the Treasury should fulfil its earlier commitment to this Committee and regularly carry out systematic ex post appraisals of environmental tax measures.
  • We are sceptical of the figures quoted for emissions savings from Climate Change Agreements and recommend that baseline figures and future assessments, including that for 2004, are independently audited.

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