Tuesday, 7 October 2008

October 2008 - When Good News is Really Only Less Bad News

As bankers across the world did their best to look innocent and surprised as the fiscal black hole created by their arrogance and greed swallowed savings, investments and metaphors for really bad things, British and European climate change policy moved quietly forward.

In the UK, the Independent Climate Change Committee advised the British government that it should be aiming for 80%, rather than 60% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050, also recommending that aviation be included in these targets. These are targets that have played a big role in the campaigning strategy of environmental NGOs. If these recommendations were to become law when the Climate Change Bill receives its Royal Ascent, Britain would have exactly the moral authority it needs to boss others around in the fight against climate change - and we all love a bit of moral high ground.

In Europe, MEPs voted for an emissions reduction plan modelled on California's ambitious climate change strategy, whereby greenhouse gas emissions are restricted by an 'amount per kilowatt hour' system, that places absolute limits on how much CO2 can be emitted from any one place at any one time. Prime targets for this new legislation are coal-fired power stations - at least, ones built after 2015.

So are Britain and Europe finally taking the fight against climate change seriously? Well, perhaps.

Environmental NGOs must play a continuous game of carrot and stick with the public perception of government action on climate change. On the one hand, positive developments must be flagged as such - and so any legislation that makes E.On's plans to dig up more of the black stuff less likely will be cautiously applauded. On the other hand, mainstream political views are so far away from the scientific reality of climate change that baby-steps away from the shimmering mirage of 'business as usual' cannot be championed as bold strides towards climate change mitigation.

Lest we forget, the 100 months countdown is for dangerous global climate change. Countries such as the UK, which jauntily kicked off the industrial revolution, are already in the red in terms of carbon emissions. That is, if climate change is to be tackled effectively and equitably (using, for example, the contraction and convergence framework), the most polluting of the industrialised nations (us, USA, Australia) will need to find ways of sequestering carbon that is already in the atmosphere. If we do not, then either the burden of combatting climate change will fall unfairly on the shoulders of less industrialised nations, or dangerous climate change will not be avoided. Neither of these outcomes seems much of a reason for celebration.

The inconvenient truth at the centre of environmental campaigning reveals itself at moments like these: We beg for small concessions, knowing all the while that small concessions will simply delay dangerous climate change - not prevent it. Of course, the small concessions must be rewarded - if they were not, the gap between scientific reality and political feasibility would never close. But 80% reduction targets, and no new coal, is the beginning, rather than the end of the story.


1 comment:

  1. Nice one. Good to see someone is keeping their eye on the ball while everybody’s caught up in the posturing over the latest mess. As the establishment wallows in yet another disaster of its own creation, expecting the taxpayer to foot the bill for their short-sightedness, perhaps they’ll take finally a hint and do something about an issue on which they still have the opportunity to act to prevent a crisis.