Meacher says the Government’s plans for tackling global warming are a world best

The Government has launched its principal weapon in the fight against greenhouse house gases to coincide with The Hague's international conference on climate change, arguing that 'real cuts in emissions at home' are the key to tackling climate change.

The UK Climate Change Programme, was announced by the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, on 17 November. Meacher and Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, announced at the conference that the UK is one of the few developed countries to have published a clear strategy for delivering its 12.5% target reduction in 1990’s CO2 emissions by 2008-12 under the Kyoto Protocol. They announced that the UK Climate Change Programme’s proposals included policies that could even cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 23% and its CO2 emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010. The ministers said that the programme will:

  • improve business’ use of energy, stimulate investment and cut costs;
  • accelerate the take-up of low carbon technologies, such as renewables;
  • stimulate new, more efficient sources of power generation;
  • cut emissions from the transport sector (see following story);
  • promote better energy efficiency in the domestic sector, saving householders money;
  • improve the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations;
  • continue cutting emissions from agriculture;
  • ensure the public sector takes a leading role – the first new public awareness campaign, started on 20 November, is urging people to save energy by not boiling more water than is needed in kettles –;
  • adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The programme builds on a draft, published for consultation last March, and the responses received. The issue of potential global warming has also achieved wide media coverage and public debate nationwide recently, after the UK’s worst floods since 1947, which Prescott and the public have linked to climate change. The document announces that the Government plans a national debate on how the UK can make the transformation to a low carbon economy and that it will be reviewing the options for future energy choices.

The vast majority of the measures included in the programme have already been announced well in advance and include:

  • a new Carbon Trust to recycle £130 million of climate change levy receipts to accelerate the take-up of low carbon technology;
  • support of £30 million for the UK emissions trading scheme, which is due to start next year;
  • £89 million in capital grants to support offshore wind and energy crop installations ;
  • proposals to establish a Kyoto Mechanisms Office to encourage the UK private sector to invest in innovative energy projects abroad, helping the UK tackle climate change and British business to seize new opportunities (see above link);
  • provisional conclusions on how to take forward the new Energy Efficiency Commitment, which will improve home energy efficiency and reduce fuel poverty;
  • more concrete initiatives to reduce emissions from the public sector;
  • plans to produce a ‘checklist’ on climate change for local authority chief executives in partnership with local government associations, recognising their central delivery role.

“The programme focuses on practical action to reduce emissions over the next decade,” Meacher commented. “But it also starts to put in place measures that will allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and make a radical shift to more sustainable patterns of energy generation and consumption.” Mentioning the COP6 climate talks, Meacher reaffirmed that cutting domestic emissions should be every industrialised nation’s aim.

“We welcome the publication of the Government’s climate strategy, but we are deeply concerned that the carbon reduction targets won’t be met,” commented Charles Secrett, Director of Friends of the Earth. “There are not enough climate pollution penalties nor incentives to help industry and householders go green. This leaves a gaping hole in the strategy. It looks like the Environment Department’s plans have been scuppered by other Government departments,” he said.

Greenpeace, however, was more scathing of the Government’s potential for achievement. “The Labour government is still dining out on the accidental carbon dioxide reductions that came from Thatcher’s battle with the miners,” said Matthew Spencer, Head of Greenpeace’s climate campaign. “John Prescott continues to play a positive role at the international climate negotiations, but back home things are going from bad to worse. The Chancellor slashes the cost of petrol just as our public transport system collapses, and whilst the renewable energy industry blossoms in Europe, it struggles to stay alive in the UK.” Like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace criticised lack of investment in solar power, CHP and bio-diesel. “The Government’s climate change programme is completely silent on solar power. The only reference in this document to solar is a picture of some photovoltaic panels,” Spencer said.

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