Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Climate Change Bill Victory

Regular readers of this newsletter will be aware of Friends of the Earth’s Big Ask climate change campaign which called on the Government to introduce a Bill for 3% yearly cuts  in carbon dioxide emissions. A few months after announcing the Bill in November’s Queen’s Speech, the Government produced a draft Climate Change Bill. 

When law, the Government will become the first in the world to commit itself to legally binding reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. They plan to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 with an interim target of reducing emissions by between 26 per cent and 32 per cent by 2020.

The target of a 60% cut in carbon dioxide was based on the best available science seven years ago.  Scientific research since then shows that we need to be aiming for an 80% cut in emissions. Opposition parties and some Labour MPs joined forces with Friend of the Earth in calling for an 80 per cent reduction.
Another weakness with the Bill is that at present the proposal does not include international aviation and shipping emissions.  Emissions from both these sectors are growing fast.

Instead of 3% annual targets, the Government has proposed a series of ‘budgets’ rather than targets.  A system of 5 year targets means that emissions can be at any level for 4 out of 5 years – as long as they are on target in the target year.  In theory, a budget means that every tonne of carbon across the period is accounted for – and if there are more emissions than planned in the first couple of years, this has to be made up for with reduced emissions in the later years. So the principle is a good one – the problem is that the budget period will usually start with one Parliament and finish with another one. 

It is a real possibility that a Government may begin a budget period with just 2 or 3 years to go before an election.  Even if they do not take the necessary steps before an election they look likely to lose, they will avoid missing the budget because they will have left office before the period is up.
A new Committee on Climate Change, appointed by the Government, will provide independent expert advice. Although ministers have rejected calls for annual targets, they promised to make an annual progress report to parliament.

Until the 12 June there is a public consultation on the Bill which is open to interested organisations and individuals.  We want a Bill which makes governments, now and in the future, properly accountable for cutting emissions and which ensures that Britain does its fair share to prevent dangerous climate change.  The draft Bill goes some way towards achieving these aims, but we feel that there are key ways that it could be improved. 

After the consultation, it will probably be brought before Parliament around October 2007. If all goes to plan it should receive royal assent around April 2008, and the Climate Change Committee has to present its opinions about what the carbon budgets should be by 1 September 2008. The Government will decide on the precise levels of Britain's first three national carbon budgets by 31 December 2008.

The Climate Change Committee will be up and running in the next 12 months.

Take action
We are asking people to respond to the consultation via an easy online action that is on the national FoE website. The online action is here: http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/press_for_change/climate_bill/index.html