Tackling emissions

The government has admitted it is not set to meet its targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Elaine Coles, head of research at IMS Communications Group, reports

So it’s official then – the government has finally acknowledged what has been widely talked about for months – it will fail to meet its self-imposed targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels. Some will argue that even though the government is on course to meet its Kyoto targets, this has largely been achieved via the decline in coal-burning power stations from the previous Conservative government’s commitment to gas. Couple that with the request in October for the European Commission (EC) to approve an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide that British industry would be allowed to emit under the EU emissions trading scheme to lower carbon emissions due to start in January, and the government’s efforts to position itself as leading the way on climate change are looking seriously compromised.

2005 is set to be an important year for the government – not only is it entering the run-up to a general election, it is also faced with the twin opportunities of presidency of the G8 group and presidency of the EU in the latter half of the year. Despite Tony Blair’s speech back in September, describing climate change as “&the world’s greatest environmental challenge” and his stated aim that “climate change will be a top priority for our G8 presidency next year”, the government is now under pressure to demonstrate its ability to deliver results.

More recently, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett herself expressed her concerns: “There is a growing public appetite for political leadership on the environment. No party has yet established itself as the natural home for those who care passionately about the environment.” This despite two terms in office and the introduction of some the most significant environmental legislation to reach the statute books in recent years. So what can the government realistically deliver? Tony Blair himself readily acknowledged in his speech that the challenge is politically complicated on two levels, “&its likely effect will not be felt to its full extent until after the time for the political decisions that need to be taken, has passed& secondly, no one nation alone can resolve it”.

Making headway

The government has likewise yet to make any real headway with its Sustainable Consumption and Production Strategy – intended to decouple the effects of environmental degradation from continued economic growth. This is likely to take a significantly higher profile given the announcement that the government will now seek to involve the general public on a far wider scale in its efforts to tackle both the causes and effects of climate change. However, identifying the challenges is one thing, putting the measures in place to address them effectively is quite another.

Key issues

Nevertheless, British business has undoubtedly already made significant strides to seriously address the key issues of energy and environment. While environmental legislation is still one of the key drivers in bringing about change, there is now a growing acknowledgement that issues like resource use, waste, environmental degradation and energy are inextricably linked to long-term success and survival. Blair’s push for “agreement on a process to speed up the science, technology and other measures necessary to meet the threat” reflects what is already happening in the marketplace – the growing uptake by UK industry of environmental technologies and services.

The continued growth and development of the UK’s and possibly Europe’s premier annual environmental event E2005, which takes place at the NEC from May 24 to 26, also bears witness to this. The event is held in conjunction with the National Energy Management Exhibition (NEMEX) and International Clean Up (ICU) exhibition and conference and boasts a range of suppliers, technologies, seminars and conferences for a host of visitors.

A considerable challenge

Now the government is also proposing to get the environment into the mainstream before the British public – likely to be a considerably greater and more complicated challenge in a consumer-driven society obsessed with meeting its own needs of travel, holidays, consumer goods and creature comforts. The proposed Environment Direct website sounds like a well-meaning attempt to encourage people to ‘act green’ – the likelihood is that it will largely be preaching to the converted. What we really need is The Harry Potter Guide to Climate Change, sponsored by The Sun and with a celebrity endorsement by David Beckham, to get the ball rolling. Last but not least, the ministers could do worse than pencilling in a visit to ET2005 (www.et-expo.co.uk) to find out more about the extent of the technologies and services on offer which can help them turn their ambitious climate change goals into reality.

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