Friday, March 16, 2007

More about the bill

The government’s Climate Bill has been published. It has already led to much debate and it is, after all, a discussion document. Nothing is expected to be approved and implemented much before the end of 2008. There are many grounds for criticism, but first of all let us welcome the fact that something is being done, even if we don’t think it’s enough. Hopefully we can get it changed before it’s put in place.

The overall target of the bill is to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. There will be a series of five-year objectives and there will be legal sanctions if these are not met. If carbon emissions are as serious as we are led to believe, you could almost expect that progress towards targets should be monitored on a weekly basis rather than every five years. The government’s reaction is that if they were to set annual targets it would be easy to fail to reach them in any one year which suffered a very harsh winter. These things should average out over five years. Nonetheless, there should certainly be annual targets and annual reports on how close we are to meeting those targets because otherwise there will be no chance of meeting the five year target.

This bill introduces legal sanctions for failure to meet the emissions targets, but the way they are presented seems quite odd. It is not the polluters who will be penalized, but rather the government minister responsible, who will be hauled before the courts for a judicial review and if found guilty will have to make amends. These amends are the purchase of carbon offsets. This implies that if we don’t actually meet our targets, we can buy our way out of the problems by buying carbon credits. Secondly, these carbon credits will of course be bought with taxpayers’ money although the taxpayers themselves will have little control over the emission levels. Thirdly, ministers rarely stay in a particular office for more than two or three years, so by the time it becomes clear that five year targets have been missed the minister responsible will be far away.

Another aspect of all this is that the government talks exclusively about the control of carbon. The unspoken assumption is that if we restrict our carbon emissions then everything will carry on as normal. In fact, the best scientific estimates are that if we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions we will prevent things from getting worse than they otherwise would. The public does not seem to be aware that global warming, or rather global overheating, is a fact; that climate change is highly probable; that the sea-levels are measurably rising; that glaciers are receding and ice caps are melting and that there is probably nothing we can do to stop this happening within our lifetimes or within those of our children or grandchildren.

If we do cut back on our carbon emissions we may prevent from things being as bad as they might otherwise be. We still need to protect ourselves against the floods, the famines, the forest fires and the violent and more frequent storms that may well be caused by climate change as a result of global overheating. Nobody seems to mention this.

And as for the disruptions that will be caused as fossil fuels run out - well that’s another story that you’ve heard me comment on in previous posts!

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