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National climate policy – 4. United Kingdom

by Kennedy Graham

And what of the UK?

–    In 1990, Britain’s gross emissions were 773 Mt.  New Zealand’s were 60 Mt.

–    In 2011, Britain’s were 550 Mt., a drop of 29%.   New Zealand’s were 76 Mt., an increase of 27%.

–    For 2027, Britain’s are budgeted (in law) to be 390 Mt. on average, and probably less, a drop (from 1990) of 50%.  New Zealand’s are projected to be about 98 Mt. (allowing for some leeway on forestry), an increase of 63%.

Is it random chance that explains this extraordinary discrepancy in achievement and planning for preventing dangerous climate change?   No, it is a more enlightened social attitude and superior political skill.

It began with Margaret Thatcher and continued under all successive British governments of different stripes.  Thatcher, and our own Prime Minister Geoff Palmer, signed on to The Hague Declaration of 1989.  The British then proceeded to do as they promised.  We have not done these things, under all successive governments of different stripes.

And it isn’t just shutting down the coal industry and then, later on, experiencing economic contraction from one of the largest financial crises of all (public debt to GDP doubling in six years to 90%).

Britain’s climate policy is about public concern with, and rational planning for, emissions mitigation.

So what, specifically, have the British done? Everything necessary in order to be serious.

–    In 2008, they introduced, with near-total cross-party support, the world’s first binding legislative framework for carbon budgeting.

–    This binds the Government to five-yearly capped budgets, (’08-12; ’13-17; ’18-22; 23-27, etc.), with mandatory targets of 34% for 2020 and 80% for ’50 as scenario calibrators for budgetary planning. The 4th budget is designed to halve the UK’s emissions off 1990.  The 5th budget (‘28-32) must be set in law by June ’16.  Each future budget must be settled by Parliament at least ten years ahead.  There must be three ‘in place’ at any one time.

–    They rest their national targets/budgets on an informed notion of the ‘global budget’. They did this long before that concept bedded in with the international community.  These reflect a drop in average global per capita emissions from 4 tonnes in 2010 to 2 t. in 2050 – and assume that the British must equate with the global average by that year (down from 14 t. in 1990 and 7 t. today).  New Zealand remains at about 18 t. today.  It is as quiet as a mouse about equating with the global average in 2050.

–    They develop a Carbon Plan to ensure national emissions come within their budgets.  The Plan rests on a national ‘effective cost pathway’; not the mythical ‘global least-cost’ that we rabbit on about to justify increased exports and emissions.

–    Within that context they relate their abatement  cost to the projected carbon market price (adopting the EC projection of about £30 in the 2020s and the British Govt. projection of £70 in 2030 and £200 in 2050), continuously monitoring the relationship, sector-by-sector.

–    They establish an independent Climate Committee of reputed experts to set the budgets and advise the Government on measures.  The Government is not obliged to accept the Committee’s advice, but if it does not it must explain its reasoning before Parliament.  The Committee conveys annual progress reports to Parliament.  If the Government wishes to amend a future budget, it must get advice and then pass amending legislation.  It must ‘consider whether there has been a significant change in circumstances upon which the budget was set, demonstrable on the basis of evidence and analysis.’

–   They do not rely on forestry and net emissions as a way of meeting Kyoto accounting rules. They work on forestry and agriculture with incentives, but they mean immediate business on energy and industry, and transport. They judge themselves on gross emissions, not net.  Net forestry sequestration is a tiny portion of their Plan – shaving just 1 Mt. off gross emissions by 2030.

–   They work with the EU’s regional ETS (the ‘tradable sector’ covering industry and power), then they take far-reaching action on the national measures for non-EU sectors (non-tradable, covering transport and, to a lesser extent, other sectors).

We do none of this.

Their emissions profile, it is true, differs from ours.  Some 33% comes from industry compared with our 7%; only 9% comes from agriculture compared with our 48%.

That does not absolve us.

The other difference is the EU’s ETS which accounts for 41% of Britain’s gross emissions.  But the UK is responsible for the other 59% through its national policies and they are handling this with skill. Take transport, which accounts, as with us, for about 20% of total emissions: average new car CO2 emissions fell from 138 gr/km in 2011 to 133 a year later.  They are indicated to fall to 60 gr/km by 2030.

We effectively do not set these standards.

Yet the British are experiencing their own national climate angst – it seems to be de rigeur in Europe post-Warsaw.  The Government is exercising its right to review the planned quantum for the 4thbudget(1,950mMt) – the first time it has done so. It is obliged to request an opinion from the Committee.  The Committee delivered its opinion this week.  It recommends sticking with the original quantum it specified back in 2010. Weakening it and delaying the necessary mitigation beyond the 2020s would ultimately cost about £100 billion – something the Chancellor might consider worth doing.  But we’re dealing also with short-term interest and emotion – and future Chancellors.  The Government must now decide soon whether to stay the course or reduce. The latter will need legislative amendment through Parliament.

Separately, the Committee believes the country is not on track to meet the 3rd budget; the Government disagrees.  The Committee believes it is further off-track for the 4th budget; the Government agrees.

So political tensions are currently running high, at a time when the famed British commitment to climate policy is beginning to flag.  And factoring in assumptions about future European policy (the 2030 target) and Britain’s consequent share, into current national planning is a tad complicated.

But everything is relative.  We are simply not in their league on climate policy – it is as if we think there is nothing to bother about.

What is it about us that we have not done / cannot do these things?

We did women’s vote, social security, nuclear free zones, with some, low-key, panache.  The British are displaying the same panache with economic transformation to a carbon-neutral state.  We are not.

We have our gaze firmly set the other way.  Is it because of our neo-liberal revolution of the ‘80s, and we cannot drop that in favour of decarbonisation – for a 21st-century economic revolution of comparable proportion?

But Thatcherism and strong British climate policy got off to early conjugal harmony, back in the ‘80s when it first kicked in.  So what is the problem?

New Zealand needs to stop being so ornery on climate policy.  We need to relax, breathe through the nose, drop that cheap mercantile NZ Inc. mentality, and realise that the economy and the ecology are not simply mutually dependent, they are one and the same.

Then we can get our national act together – and a life for our kids.

12/15/2013 – 05:15


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