Climate law to set carbon cut targets for 2050

A climate change bill will legally bind the Government to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 - but with no mention of annual targets to mark progress.

The proposed bill comes in response to long-term environmental and energy security concerns, the Queen told MPs and peers on Wednesday as she set out the legislative agenda for the year ahead.

But the Queen’s speech made no mention of the binding year-on-year targets environmentalists have been fervently campaigning for, and which they say are necessary for the legislation to be effective.

The Queen said: “My government will publish a bill on climate change as part of its policy to protect the environment, consistent with the need to secure long-term energy supplies.”

As it stands, the bill is likely to introduce a legally binding commitment to reducing emissions by 60% by 2050 and an independent body to monitor progress, the Carbon Committee.

New Government powers to help reach the 2050 target and an improved monitoring system to keep emission levels in check are also on the agenda.

Environmental organisations said the bill was a step in the right direction but that only binding annual targets would ensure its effectiveness.

Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said: “Public concern has forced ministers to move into a higher gear on climate change, but we still have no idea just how they intend to meet these new targets while they continue to back airport expansion, wasteful energy generation techniques and the dead end of nuclear power.

“We hope this bill will spark real change, with annual targets for carbon cuts, because CO2 emissions are going up under Labour and business-as-usual simply isn’t working.”

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper called the 2050 targets “Nimto targets (not in my term of office).”

“With an inevitable procession of pressing political issues arising on a daily basis, targets for 2010 and more importantly 2050 are hardly at the top of the political agenda, and certainly not ones that are not legally binding,” he said.

But the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) dismissed calls for annual goals, saying that five-year targets would be more realistic.

Ian Kearns, ippr deputy director, said: “The new priority given to tackling climate change is to be welcomed but calls from some quarters for annual targets are unrealistic in policy terms. Targets should be based on a five year cycle that would match the electoral system and would allow the public to hold politicians to account on this crucial issue.”

The climate change bill will form part of an international effort to combat climate change, including the Kyoto protocol which commits the UK to a cut of 12.5% by 2012 from 1990 levels.

The announcement came as international negotiators in Nairobi debated the next steps for the Kyoto protocol for when the current phase runs out in 2012.

Commenting on the international context of the bill, the World Development Movement think tank argued that the UK should set annual targets, and that as an industrialised state it should shoulder more of the burden in the climate change fight than poor countries:

“Half of climate changing carbon emissions originate in the developed world but it is the global South that pays the greatest price where billions of people face losing their lands, livelihoods or lives. Emissions from Drax power station in Yorkshire alone exceed the annual emissions of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique combined,” said the WDM’s Bev Duckworth.

The WDM also called for the bill to cover all emissions, including aviation which is the UK’s fastest growing greenhouse contributor. “For the government to meet its emission reduction targets it must abandon the goal of doubling air passenger transport by 2020,” said Bev Duckworth.

Goska Romanowicz

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