How Green is the “Greenest Government Ever”as UK PM Promised?

On May 14, the UK Guardian newspaper reported on a sweeping new carbon emissions deal crafted by the Committee on Climate Change, or CCC.

The deal is being put forth by UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat and the CCC’s strongest backer, and opposed by none other than Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, a Conservative, and Vince Cable, business secretary to Prime Minister David Cameron – a pair who together exercise enormous control over the UK government’s purse strings.

Osborne and Cable are reportedly backed by two governmental entities, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has released its own report on (the inevitable) energy price increases in agriculture and food prices if the initiative is enforced, and the Department for Transport, whose 2005 report pooh-poohs any link between public awareness of climate change and transportation choices – a fact that would only be true if the poor had real choices, and the rich exercised theirs.

In spite of that juxtaposition, the Guardian reports that Huhne’s move passed only after Cameron’s intervention – an unexpected source of support for a new (and presumably bigger) carbon budget which is reportedly assured up to 2027. It also puts the UK at the forefront of the EU group of nations as the only one with “legally binding (emission) commitments past 2020.”

And what is this new emissions budget? It sets a goal of reducing carbon emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. To do this, committee chairman David Kennedy has also stressed the need to hit the ground running; that is, to make cuts of 60 percent by 2030.

The CCC’s goals expand on the Kyoto Accord, and cost estimates as far back as 2008 calculate that reductions will require no more than 2 percent of GDP in 2050 – a projection that seems almost like magical thinking, given the more than 40-year gap.

The 80-percent goal is predicated on climate science that suggests enormous dangers for the planet and its inhabitants if global warming is allowed to proceed beyond the 2 degrees C limit recommended by climate scientists. Some, like James Hansen, NASA climate scientist extraordinaire, worry that even these 60- and 80-percent reductions won’t be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change.

A handful of UK ministers, on the other hand, have focused their hopes on the possibility that these stringent goals will encourage major wind turbine and tidal turbine manufacturers to invest in the UK, which is a distinct possibility given the UK’s wind and tidal energy potential. According to the World Wind Energy Association, or WWEA, the UK ranks number 1 in total installed offshore wind capacity, with 1,341 megawatts.

So how much will the initiative cost? Experts say government will have to earmark at least £16 billion each year through 2050. Some of the funds may come from electricity price increases (no rate mentioned), but the fact that experts are using the words “urgency” and “resolve” in the same sentence suggests that austerity measures are not far off.

On May 7, the Guardian quoted environmentalist and former UK government advisor Jonathon Porritt as saying that the likelihood of government living up to its green promises is “vanishingly remote” – a gentle euphemism for what may end up being the biggest environmental retreat on record.

One could accuse Porritt of being jaded and bitter, except for the fact that, the same day the initiative was announced, 15 “green” groups, led by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, warned that Cameron was in danger of breaking his “greenest government ever” pledge almost before it was dry on paper.

Article by Jeanne Roberts, appearing courtesy Celsias.

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