Global & local action needed to tackle climate change

The impact of human activity on the earth's atmosphere, relating particularly to climate change, remains at the top of the environmental agenda on the global and national level with aviation pollution and local levels of carbon dioxide emissions coming under the spotlight. LAWE Editor Alexander Catto reports on recent developments

The UK was able to notch up at least one positive outcome on the environmental front at the end of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s stint in the EU Presidency.

In the run-up to Christmas, Environment Ministers from across the European Union gave their backing to measures aimed at reducing the climate change impacts of aviation.

The EU Environment Council supported the British government’s view that emissions trading is the best way forward in tackling aviation emissions.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett, who chaired the meeting in December, said emissions trading was an important component in both the UK and Europe’s efforts to tackle climate change, providing industry a clear incentive to reduce carbon emissions, while enabling it to do so at least cost.

EU agreement

Mrs Beckett said: “A priority of our EU presidency has been to drive forward action on tackling the climate change impacts of air travel.”

Welcoming the agreement from European Ministers, she said: “We are pleased that Council has called for a legislative proposal on this before the end of 2006.

“The advantage of this approach is that it guarantees a specific environmental outcome in a way that other instruments do not. It also ensures that the emissions reductions required to achieve a particular environmental outcome take place in as cost-effective way as possible.”

Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling added: “The aviation sector must take its share of responsibility for tackling the problem of climate change. As we said in the Aviation White Paper two years ago we believe the best way to do this is through an emissions trading scheme.”

A working group under the European Climate Change Programme has been established to undertake the technical work.

In the EU, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation were three per cent of total emissions in 2001. This represented an increase of 68% from 1990 levels. British forecasts suggest that the UK’s combined domestic and international aviation emissions could account for up to a quarter of our total contribution to global warming by 2030.

Consultation on climate change

On the home front, consultation continues on a report on the links between air quality and climate change published by The Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) in November 2005.

The Government says that, although air quality in the UK has improved considerably in recent years as pollutants have been cut thanks to legislation and technological advances, ministers were concerned that not enough was known about the impact of pollution controls on climate change.

Mike Pilling, who chairs the AQEG, said: “The links between climate change and air quality are poorly understood, which is why the Government asked us to review the most up-to-date scientific research currently available in this area.”

The draft AQEG report found that:

  • Pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone precursors influence climate change. This is not currently recognised in international definitions of harmful emissions.
  • Hot summers like the 2003 heatwave are likely to become the norm by 2040, leading to summer smog unless emissions affecting ozone concentrations are substantially reduced.
  • National and European policies must recognise the interaction between the effects of pollutants on air quality and on climate change.
  • A holistic approach to processes that occur in and that affect the atmosphere is essential if progress is to be made in limiting the impact of human activity on climate change and air quality.

Deadline for comments is 13 March 2006. For more information see The final report is expected to be published in summer 2006.

CO2 emissions for LAs

Also offering food for thought, and hopefully a stimulus for further action on air quality, were the results published recently of a project commissioned by DEFRA to develop experimental statistics of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for all UK local authorities for 2003.

A summary and the full report are available from the e-Digest of Environmental Statistics on the DEFRA website at

Whilst the results should be treated with caution, as they are experimental statistics under development and there are known limitations in the estimates, the key points show that, overall, 44 % of the emissions assigned to local authority areas are attributed to “industrial and commercial” sources, 29% to the domestic sector, and 23% to transport.

There are wide local variations on this because of the economy and geography of local areas.

In about 43% of authorities, the emissions attributable to the domestic sector are greater than the emissions from industrial, commercial and public sector sources.

Domestic emissions (from consumption of electricity and other fuels, but excluding travel) are between 2,600 and 3,000 kg per person per year in about half of local authority areas.

The results are intended as a resource to help those working on local or regional inventories as part of their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

DEFRA says that these experimental estimates alone cannot give all the information necessary to plan and monitor the progress of all local emissions reduction initiatives, or yet act as meaningful “performance indicators” for local areas. This may need additional monitoring by stakeholders at local level.

The main data sources are the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory ( maintained by Netcen on behalf of DEFRA and the Devolved Administrations and DTI’s experimental statistics of energy consumption for local authority areas. The project was carried out by Netcen.

NSCA analysis

An analysis of the local carbon emission data by NSCA reveals high and low emitting local authorities.

Camden, Exeter and Birmingham come out in the top five in the NSCA study. The environmental body says that the new data provides new opportunities for transparency and accountability for greenhouse gas emissions at the local level. The NSCA considers that, ultimately, statistics of this type could provide a basis for authorities to plan and monitor progress on emissions reduction and could even form the basis of local performance indicators.

NSCA Policy Officer Rob Pilling commented|: “For a long time now, lack of data has been a barrier to planning and monitoring local level action on climate change. This has limited accountability and transparency. It is really important that authorities recognise the opportunity that these data represent.”

NSCA will be holding its 2nd Conference on Local Authority Response to Climate Change on the 2 February 2006 at the Institute of Physics in London.

This event, entitled “Where next for local action?”, presents a timely opportunity to consider the implications of the forthcoming revision to the UK’s climate change programme and how it will support local efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The final programme, including workshop themes will be announced shortly on the NSCA website (

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