Climate change: now is not the time to renege on green pledges

Oct 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Global Warming, Governance, Green House Gas Emissions, Information and Communication, International Agencies, IPCC, Lessons, News, Opinion, Vulnerability

Guardian: The government is moving ever further away from its initial promise to be a friend of the environment.

Charles Koch is a billionaire and a climate warming sceptic. At least, he was until last week when a study that he part-funded indicated that estimates of global temperature increases in the past century had not, after all, been artificially boosted by the “urban heat island” effect.

Sceptics such as Mr Koch had argued that data had been skewed by temperature stations being engulfed by, or moved closer to, cities. Now, a study by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project in California has demonstrated that “very rural” temperature stations miles from new towns or cities have recorded global warming of 0.9% since 1900. Global warming, according to believers in climate change, is directly attributable to the increasing emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Climate change urgently demands that we overcome cultural, social, political and economic barriers to act together to cushion its impact. That requires strong leadership and long-term vision. If we collectively fail to act now, then the potential result, on an international scale, could be instability, conflict and collapse as water becomes an increasingly rare resource, food production is adversely affected and energy sources become more vulnerable.

It is unfortunate that domestically, even as the climate change sceptics receive a drubbing, the coalition appears to be travelling away from the proactive and bold measures that are required. At the Conservative party conference last month, the chancellor, George Osborne, boasted that he had insisted on an opt-out clause for carbon reduction targets. This contradicts the commitment in the Climate Change Act that the UK will halve its emissions by 2025 compared with 1990 levels and achieve an 80% reduction by 2050.

And last week a £1bn carbon capture and storage demonstration scheme was cancelled. A further dulling of the coalition’s green sheen has come with the announcement that subsidies for households to install solar panels are to be drastically reduced. Discussions are taking place about how far to cut the small-scale “feed-in tariff” which pays households and companies for energy produced. This could mean a fall from the current level of up to 43p per kilowatt hour to as little as 9p per kWh, a move that will offer almost no incentive to adopt a different style of living.

Admittedly, the wave and tidal industry will see a small rise in its subsidy but in the current climate, concerns have also been expressed at the impact on the environment of the discovery of 5.6 trillion cubic metres of gas in the Bowland shale under Lancashire. While such quantities – enough to fill 60 million Albert Halls – would reduce the UK’s reliance on imported fuel as North Sea supplies run out, untrammelled shale gas exploration (“fracking” or fracturing the shale to release bubbles of natural gas) can cause devastation.

The public has awoken to the need to change bad habits – recycling is fast becoming a national hobby. It is of profound concern that the coalition appears not to share this sense of urgency and instead claims a damaging contradiction between economic prosperity and a sustainable future.

David Cameron said just after the last election that he wanted his to be “the greenest government ever”. Its current actions do little to enhance its claim to such a reputation.

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