Reading the climate change small print

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I said yesterday that there had been wide-ranging approval for the decision to go for net-zero carbon [N-ZC] in the UK by 2050.  This is not universally the case, however, and a number of points have emerged.

The first is that the move has been made by an Order in Council, which is a practice that harks back to Tudor monarch times when our embryonic parliament was routinely sidelined by action in the Privy Council.  All this continues today.  In essence, there is to be no parliamentary scrutiny or possibility of amendment of this decision and it will not be enshrined (and hence protected) in primary legislation.*  The government (or was that the prime minister?) simply decided and then told parliament about it.  This will make the UK the first member of the G7 to go for N-ZC.  Some say this urge to be first explains the reluctance to use the time-consuming primary legislation route.  Surely not.  Others say that it's the PM who wants the credit rather than her successor.  Such cynics.


The second is that the plan allows the UK to achieve the goal through the use of international carbon credits through which the UK can pay for cuts elsewhere in lieu of domestic emissions.  This is like off-setting your egregious carbon splurging, and Greenpeace said this would shift the burden to developing nations.  The 2050 date was recommended by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), but its chair said it was important that such credits were not used.  The Times quotes Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, as saying that allowing international carbon credits would need to be unpicked:

As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it is right that the UK is the world’s first major economy to commit to completely end its contribution to climate change, but trying to shift the burden to developing nations through international carbon credits undermines that commitment.  This type of offsetting has a history of failure and is not, according to the government’s climate advisers, cost-efficient.”

The third (and see Ed Conway in The Times) is to be found in the small print of the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recent report.  This says that if you take the technology we have now it would be possible to see how we might reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 96%.  But, says Conway, that involves a few leaps of faith: it relies on a new generation of carbon-capture power plants that have not been planned, let alone built.  It presumes that nearly every boiler in every home will be replaced (or converted to burn hydrogen), that all internal combustion engine cars and vans will be removed from the road and that everyone will eat less beef, lamb and dairy products. .

The real problem, Conway says, is that final 4% which, the CCC says will “require some use of options that currently appear more speculative” such as fuels from algae or sucking massive amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

We shall see – I hope, although I may not make it to 2050 to see for myself.


Fourth (and it really should be 1st), just read Michael Stone's letter in the Guardian. yesterday about carbon off-shoring and the manipulation of data.

* A lack of scrutiny means that some of the CCC’s recommendations – banning international carbon credits and including aviation and shipping in the new target – are ignored.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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