Government gives in to polluters and allows for more emissions in NAP

The Government appears to have backed down on its pledge to put climate change at the centre of all its thinking by offering a re-notification, or amendment, of the national allocation plan (NAP) which will let polluters emit far more carbon dioxide than had previously been allowed.

Environmental groups have accused the Government of “signing a polluters charter” and accused Tony Blair personally of siding with the DTI and industry over Defra and the environmental lobby.

The UK published its first NAP in May, setting out provisional allocation levels for the first phase of EU emissions trading between 2005-07. At the time, this plan was criticised for watering down the Government’s draft proposals which were published in January (see related story).

Now, the May plans have been watered down again. The Government claims that this is due to the projections of emissions over the period being “revised upwards.”

A briefing note from Defra said: “Emissions by UK installations covered by the EU emissions trading scheme for the period 2005-07 are now estimated to be 56.1 million tonnes CO2 (or 7.6%) higher than was the case in April.”

In line with this, the Government has proposed increasing the total number of UK allowances for the period 2005-07 by 19.8 million allowances to 756.1 million – an increase of just under 3% from the April plan.

The Government says this allocation is 5.2% below final projections of ‘business as usual’ in the UK and will take us beyond our Kyoto commitment. In addition, it says it is consistent with domestic goals of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010 on 1990 levels.

During a telephone press conference, a Defra spokesperson said that most of the extra allocation would come through power generators being allowed to emit roughly three million tonnes of extra carbon per year.

However, Friends of the Earth have said if this extra amount is not compensated for by taking allowances from other industries, then the plan will actually allow for a 2% increase in emissions by 2007 compared to baseline years.

Put another way, FoE says, it means a less than 1% reduction on 2002 emissions.

Friends of the Earth says it will be asking the Commission to reject the new plan and calling for the UK to introduce new regulations and taxes in the forthcoming review of the Climate Change Programme to compensate for throwing away the opportunity to use trading to make cuts in emissions.

A Defra spokesperson said it was unlikely that the plan would be rejected by the Commission as it was merely an amendment, not a resubmission. This means it won’t be subject to the three month decision making process and would not delay the start of the emissions trading scheme.

Secretary of State for the Environment, Margaret Beckett said: “This decision is good news for tackling climate change. Our approach is consistent with the goals set in our energy white paper and balances the importance of our climate change objectives with the need to support the competitiveness of UK industry as well as safeguarding the security of energy supplies.”

The amended plans were swiftly condemned by other politicians.

“What credibility can the Prime Minister have for his claims to put climate change at the centre of his presidencies of the G8 and the EU, when he is personally signing a polluters charter back home?” asked Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary.

Mr Baker said he believed that the Prime Minister had intervened in a rift between Defra and the DTI to reduce the target of reductions in CO2 emissions.

“While Margaret Beckett has been busy in Birmingham promising a five year strategy, Tony Blair has been busy pulling the rug from underneath her. This is further evidence that Tony Blair will never bite the bullet when it comes to the environment. He always takes the side of the polluters, never the side of the environment. Unless No.10 and the DTI take the environment seriously, I fear Defra’s five Year Strategy is a waste of time,” he said.”

Friends of the Earth spokesperson, Bryony Worthington, said: “Tony Blair is going back on his promise to address global warming and is allowing industry to create even more pollution which will directly lead to climate change. By significantly increasing the amount of CO2 pollution that industry is allowed to emit he is undermining the UK’s international credibility and sending a very poor signal to the rest of Europe.”

It is not yet clear what effect this will have on the carbon markets. Previous weakening of the NAP lowered the price of carbon quite considerably, while a study by the Carbon Trust questioned the ability of the trading system to actually lower emissions at all if allocations were so generous (see related story).

By David Hopkins

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