By Deborah Summers and Damian Carrington
The government has committed the U.K. to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by the middle of the century in a bid to tackle climate change.
In a move that was widely welcomed by environmental campaigners, Ed Miliband, the new energy and climate change secretary, said that the current 60% target would be replaced by the higher goal in the climate change bill.
Effort to Fulfill IPCC Targets
Miliband told MPs that the tough economic conditions were not an excuse to “row back” on the commitment to tackle global warming.
He accepted the recommendations of the government-appointed Climate Change Committee, chaired by Lord Turner, which said last week that the U.K. ought to commit to an 80% reduction from 1990 levels for all greenhouse gases and covering all sectors.
He also pledged to amend the energy bill to create “feed-in tariffs,” allowing small-scale energy producers – such as homes with wind turbines or solar panels – to sell electricity at a guaranteed price.
He issued a warning to energy companies to act “in a satisfactory way” to reduce charges for customers with pre-payment meters and those not connected to the gas main.
He said the government expects “rapid action or explanation to remedy any abuses” and warned if the firms do not act then ministers would consult on legislation to prevent “unfair pricing”.
Dr. Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientist, said: “This is a hugely encouraging first move from the new climate change secretary. In a decade in power Labour has never adopted a target so ambitious, far-reaching and internationally significant as this.
“To meet it will require determined action from Gordon Brown and every one of his successors for the next four decades. Hard choices will be made that will touch every Briton, but it can and must be done.”
He added: “Ed Miliband obviously understands the urgency of the threat we face from climate change. He is absolutely right to say Britain should set an example to the rest of the world in tackling this issue, and we will support him wholeheartedly if the decisions he takes in the coming weeks and months genuinely reflect this ambition.”
Environmentalists Endorse, Criticize
Ruth Davis, the head of climate change at the RSPB, said: “This is one of the most far-sighted and far-reaching climate change initiative any government could take and is testament to the efforts of campaigners.”
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, said: “Miliband’s admission that pollution from international aviation and shipping will be dealt with outside the bill is a sign that these industries are being picked out for special treatment yet again.
“The Committee on Climate Change made it clear that we have to reduce all carbon emissions by 80%. We cannot leave the cuts in aviation and shipping emissions to chance.”
Greg Clark, the shadow climate change secretary, also welcomed the announcements. He said: “The choice between aggressive and ambitious action on carbon reduction and a successful, powerful economy is, in fact, not a choice at all – they are one and the same.”
Economy, Environment Linked
Miliband, making his first statement to the Commons as head of the newly created department, said: “In tough economic times, some people ask whether we should retreat from our climate-change objectives.
“In our view it would be quite wrong to row back and those who say we should misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face.”
The 2006 Stern report showed that the costs of doing nothing “are greater than the costs of acting”, he said.
The climate change bill would be amended to set the higher target, which “will be binding in law.”
Miliband said: “However, we all know that signing up to an 80% target in 2050 when most of us will not be around is the easy part. The hard part is meeting it and meeting the milestones that will show we’re on track.”
The Climate Change Committee will advise on the first 15 years of carbon budgets in December, “national limits to our total emissions within which we will have to live as a country”.
The announcement on feed-in tariffs will be welcomed by Labour backbenchers, who staged the biggest revolt of Gordon Brown’s leadership over the issue.
In April, 35 backbenchers rebelled on the issue during debate on the energy bill, with two more Labour MPs acting as tellers.
Miliband said: “Having heard the debate on this issue, including from many colleagues in this house, on this side of the house and on others, I also believe that complementing the renewables obligation for large-scale projects, guaranteed prices for small-scale electricity generation – feed-in tariffs – have the potential to play an important role, as they do in other countries.”
Last week Ofgem, the energy regulator, highlighted “unjustified” higher charges for 4 million customers without mains gas.
The regulator also believes that many homes using pre-payment meters – often the poorest customers – are being “overcharged”.
Miliband said: “Unfair pricing which hits the most vulnerable hardest is completely unacceptable. I made that clear to the representatives of the big six energy companies when I met them yesterday.
“I also told them that the government expects rapid action or explanation to remedy any abuses. I will meet them again in a month to hear what they have done.”
He added: “If the companies don’t act in a satisfactory way, and speedily, then we will consult on legislation to prevent unfair pricing differentials.”
Miliband said the measures announced today were part of an energy and climate change policy “that is fair and sustainable, which meets our obligations to today’s and future generations.”
Biting the Bullet at Last
Clark said there had been a “decade-long void” in the government’s policy towards energy, in which “successive ministers have looked the other way rather than address the issue of future energy needs.”
He welcomed the acceptance of Turner’s 80% target, saying: “We have always said that we should be guided by the science on that matter.”
But he called for the target to be kept under constant review, saying that just eight years ago 60% was considered to be the right number.
Clark also pressed Miliband to “lead the world” on carbon capture and storage by committing to three U.K.-based demonstration projects and said smart metering should be introduced for micro-generation. Φ
Deborah Summers and Damian Carrington write for the British Guardian newspaper. This article is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/16/greenpolitics-edmiliband.