Government is missing opportunities to mitigate climate change

The UK Government has failed to act on producing a common label for products that contribute to climate change – what could have been a quick win opportunity, according to a new report by a governmental advisory committee.

The second report by the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment (ACCPE), published on 3 May, expressed disappointment at the lack of action on the Committee’s recommendation from October 2000 for a ‘family’ of graded labels to make the climate change effects of homes, cars and domestic equipment, transparent to consumers. The Government needs to act with more urgency, says the Committee.

There is a tendency to see product-related policy as ‘interesting’, rather than requiring real priority, says the report. The necessary large changes will only come about if policy for goods and services becomes an integral part of sustainable development policy, the report adds. “Our firm view is that product policy is not a frill. It could be one of the most powerful engines for delivering major long-term improvements in sustainability.”

“Sharing the responsibility with the shops where we buy … products makes a huge difference,” said Alan Knight, Chair of the Advisory Committee. “Likewise, retailers can talk to their suppliers and the companies that make the products. …Also, by buying these products we create jobs for people around the world, often raising their chances to improve their quality of life.”

In particular, the Committee criticised the Government’s progress on labelling for cars, describing its actions as “timid”. “The Government should quickly follow the example of countries like the Netherlands in introducing comparative ratings for new vehicles, preferably using a clear ‘A to G’ type scale. A scheme for eco-labelling for houses needs to be the subject of consultation as soon as possible. However, in the case of other domestic plant and equipment, the UK has a stronger record, and so the Government should be active in shaping progress on a new energy labelling framework directive for products, says the Committee.

The Commission has also explored the role that could be played by ‘carbon offset’, and has called on the Government to get the market moving in this area, and draw up formal guidance in consultation with business and other stakeholders to ensure that offset schemes are offered to consumers in a fair and effective way. Such a scheme could contribute to levels of public awareness and avoid misleading messages. “The area where we think that carbon offsets could most likely be presented to consumers in a fair and effective way is that of car fuel, where consumers could relate to emissions arising directly from their consumption and to the ‘offsetting’ action being promised by the supplier – as opposed to offsets linked to products where the carbon emissions are produced elsewhere in the supply chain such as during the manufacturing process,” says the report.

Other suggestions from the Committee include a Government-led scheme to help companies ‘green’ their supply chains, and a more thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of everyday food products across their life cycle, from their production, transport, processing and distribution, through to their use and disposal by the end-consumer.

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