Thursday, 16 July 2009

July 2009 - The sky's the limit?

The past seven days have seen a wave of activity from the Department for Energy and Climate Change. With the publication of the UK Low Carbon Transition plan outlining the first steps in Britain's attempted transition towards a post-carbon (well, a 20% carbon) society, Ed Miliband has provided the first glimpse of a counterpart to the Climate Change Bill. We celebrated the ambitious targets, but we always knew that what came next would be critical - the plan for how the targets would be achieved.

The Transition plan seems to revive something of the spirit of the Green New Deal, mercilessly dashed on the rocks of the recession at the g20 meeting in London. Much is made of the prospect for Green Jobs, not least in the insulation of inefficient housing stock (firmly echoing the Green New Deal call for a 'carbon army' of home insulators).

Announcements were also made about the approximate pricing of feed-in renewable energy tariffs, designed to encourage micro-generation. Combine this with the UK Climate Projections issued last month, the supposed global agreement on 2 degrees as constituting 'dangerous' climate change at the g8 in Italy and the imminent conference in Copenhagen, and its difficult not to feel vaguely optimistic that the UK government are at last getting their arse in gear on climate change.

Ed Miliband made one other announcement this week, however, that pierces this little bubble somewhat. Couching his argument as a noble struggle against the tyranny of upper class aviation, Miliband stated unequivocally that aviation would not be subject to the 80% cuts that other sectors of the economy would be making. In fact, he explicitly raised the propsect of deeper-than-80% cuts in 'other areas' in order to permit aviation to continue to be available for rich and poor alike.

In the Guardian, Leo Hickman raised asked a reasonable question: What were these frivolous non-aviation sectors of the economy that were likely to face deeper-than-80% cuts - education? Health? Council services? Despite making it sound as if reducing aviation would mean ushering in a new age of travel apartheid with only the top tier of earners able to leave Britain's drab and cloudly shores, Miliband also conceded that air travel would inevitably become more expensive as the price of oil rose. So despite pledging not to reduce aviation emissions by 80%, he also suggested that the price of flying would rise (presumably leading to a situation where only richer folk get on anyway).

Its good to see that Ed is so concerned about social justice and equality of access to the runway. So why not charge the rich more to allow the poor to fly? If only 20% of the flights that now take off will be permitted in 2080, why not ration them so that we all get an equal opportunity to use the 'freedom' of the sky? It isnt the wrath of the families heading to the Costa Del Sol Ed's fearing (after all, with plausible advances in rail travel, and accompanying reductions in cost, a trip to Spain could be done door-to-door from Manchester overnight). Its the Business class elite (Ryanair's average customer earns £47,000), whose lifestyle and networking would fall apart without the island hopping luxury they have become accustomed to.

Ed Miliband and DECC are starting to make some big strides in putting climate ambition into practice. But for now, it looks like the sky's the limit...