Despite Tony Blair’s warm words on climate change, UK emissions have risen by 3% since Labour came to power in 1997 (see related story).

Now, the coalition – which includes former environment Ministers Michael Meacher MP and John Gummer MP, as well as current LibDem environment spokesman Norman Baker MP as well as 10 NGOs and 200 other MPs – is saying that the UK will never meet its target of a 60% cut by 2050 unless it adopts a proper legal framework.

“Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity. We have a window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic climate change but that gap is narrowing,” said Tony Juniper, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. “It is critical that we set ourselves on a pathway to achieve the necessary carbon dioxide reductions. This Bill will set us on a sensible and achievable glide path toward the necessary long-term targets.”

The law would set a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 3% every year. This would compel the Prime Minister to report annually to Parliament on progress towards meeting the target and a series of measures to get emissions cuts back on track could be introduced if the target is not met.

These measures could include requirements on Ministers to introduce new policies, greater powers for Select Committees and, ultimately, pay cuts for the Ministers failing to cut emissions.

“Targets that can be missed with impunity take us backwards on climate change,” said Matthew Davis, WWF-UK’s Climate Change Campaign Director. “They provide an illusion of progress, while covering up the lack of real action to reduce emissions. This Bill will make targets meaningful, ensuring that Ministers are individually responsible for staying on track and spelling out the consequences should they fail.”

All three major parties supported long-term cuts in carbon dioxide emissions at the general election, promising a 60% cut by 2050. However, as emissions have risen, meeting that target is becoming ever harder.

Friends of the Earth point out that, as carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for many years, the real limit is not simply the level of emissions in 2050, but the cumulative emissions between now and then. Without this law, high emissions for the next ten years will mean far bigger annual cuts would be needed in 2050.

By David Hopkins

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