Friday, 6 March 2009

UK Climate Change Policy is all Rhubarb and Custard

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in the US this week meeting with President Obama and the US Congress. The purpose of the visit was to discuss strengthening US-UK relations and addressing the current economic crisis. Brown used the opportunity to discuss a green economic stimulus package that he would like to see introduced to address the current crisis.

During his speech to Congress Brown spoke an astonishing amount of rhubarb- maybe he has been paying too much attention to the brand of politics of G-Obama! He paid much lip-service to the green economy and spoke of his desire to create a new low-carbon UK economy- a dispensation that could create 400,000 new jobs. Questionable statistics and questionable intentions.

Mr Brown claimed that independent research estimates that 1.3 million people will be employed in the environmental sector by 2017. These statistics even though questionable would undoubtedly represent a new era of ecological modernisation.

Before this can happen there needs to be an improvement in all sorts of environmental regulations- not just mealy-mouthed commitments but real-world actions to meet environmental targets. Rhetoric is simply not enough.

Brown mentioned a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. This is totally pie in the sky stuff considering current form. These targets are actually more ambitious (!) than the international targets set by UN International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, an international body of experts, asserted that global carbon emissions need to be reduced 25-40% by 2020, 50% by 2050 and up to 80% by 2100.

Action needs to be realistic and perhaps the targets agreed at the climate change talks in Bali were much too ambitious. Will UN countries be able to reduce carbon emissions by 25-40% by 2020- only 11 years away?

The IPCC recommendations are unachievable as the UN process is totally out of sync with this kind of pace of action and implementation. Cue the alarm bells.

There will be a climate change deal later this year but the question remains whether the deal will be effective in terms of implementation and ambition.

Any post-Kyoto agreement MUST be more successful or effective- as Kyoto was only designed to reduce emissions by 2-3% of 1990 levels and even still most countries have not met these somewhat conservative targets.

With this in mind, what evidence is there to suggest that the UN targets agreed at Bali, and the even more ambitious ones promoted by Brown this week, are in any way achievable? None.

It was interesting to note that during Brown’s visit to the US he did not once mention where responsibility for the current financial crisis lies. This is at considerable odds with his own domestic policy- as Brown has continuously blamed the US for creating this current financial crisis.

When addressing domestic opponents and critics alike, Brown has always attempted to absolve and distance himself of any responsibility for this financial mess. He has consistently criticised the US and at the same time defended his records as PM and as the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Regardless, any talk of a Green New Deal must be taken with a pinch of salt. Brown is no authority on environmental issues. How can he talk about creating a low-carbon economy when he and his acolyte Lord Mandelson are so intent on massive airport expansions and creating a third runway at Heathrow Airport? He can not continue to ride two horses at the same time.

The expansion plans at Heathrow have been met with considerable local opposition and Brown ignored this, prompting the local MP to protest in Parliament. Brown’s record poses serious doubts over his green credentials and over his commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

It seems this Green New Deal he speaks of isn’t so much about protecting the environment as it is about protecting the political life of Gordon Brown.

This morning I had a good laugh as the Lord of Darkness, Peter Mandelson, got some comeuppance of his own for his Heathrow maldeavours. On his way to a low-carbon summit earlier today, Mandy was sprayed with green custard by an environmental protester. The protester, a member of Plane Stupid, was angry at Mandelson over the Heathrow debacle.

With this in mind, the government needs to be much more serious about creating a low-carbon economy and put actions before words. If done right the creation of a low-carbon economy will address climate change and create jobs at the same time.

Investments in renewable energy is vital in this process- as this can create jobs and in tandem tackle the twin threat of climate change and energy security.

But until this happens, when it comes to addressing climate change, Brown and Mandelson are just all rhubarb and custard.

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