Thursday, October 23, 2008

On our present course, the bold new carbon target is worthless

The decision by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, to commit Britain to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is welcome. Recent research has made it clear that the government's previous target of a 60 per cent reduction would be insufficient to help halt profound climate change this century. New measures were required.

But we should note that setting goals is the easy part of fighting global warming; implementing them is harder. This point is demonstrated in the report in The Observer today on Britain's wind energy programme. This is supposed to ensure that a third of all UK electricity is generated by onshore and offshore turbines by 2020. But it is now facing collapse, a victim of rising costs, planning blockages and poor investment. Government action is falling well short of its rhetoric.

The failure to insist that carbon capture devices be fitted to the proposed new coal-fired power plant at Kingsnorth provides another example. Without such machinery, vast amounts of carbon dioxide will be pumped into the atmosphere, making nonsense of the UK's commitment to combat global warming. Transport policy is similarly unenlightened. The government backs motorway construction schemes and continues to call for cuts in petrol prices, ignoring the environmental implications. It also refuses to include aviation fuel in its climate change calculations - as if ignoring its consumption means it will no longer be heating the planet. Likewise, a commitment to the expansion of UK airports seriously undermines our claim to be climate change champions.

The government must establish a consistent attitude to global warming and back this with significant investments. It should provide a national electricity grid that can carry power from remote wind turbines to cities; develop a wave and tidal power energy programme that will take advantage of our marine expertise; and create carbon capture schemes that will allow us to build a new generation of coal power plants.

It is also clear that the world's current economic crisis provides no excuse for failing to make proper investments and hard political decisions. The 2006 report by Sir Nicholas Stern showed the costs of acting will be vastly outweighed by the costs of not acting. The government must therefore be resolute - and consistent.

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