In the wake of the climate change commitments agreed at the latest G8 meeting in July, the UK government set out its stall with the announcement of its Low Carbon Transition Plan, which Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, described as a comprehensive plan to move the country onto a permanent low-carbon footing and to maximize economic opportunities, growth and jobs.
As we move closer towards the UN conference, seen as a ‘crunch’ conference, in Copenhagen in December, where a deal to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol will be forged, the pressure on countries to be seen to be doing something anything has probably never been more intense.
The G8 and the accompanying Major Economies Forum’s discussions on global warming were derided by many environmental groups as yet another ‘damp squib’. And arguably this was the case. However, it is worth noting that the pledge to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and to attempt to hold global temperature rises to a maximum of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels including developing countries go further than any pledges made by leading countries in the past decade.
Few believed that there would be a declaration on climate change to end all declarations from the G8 meeting, and many saw the real prize as Obama sitting in a room with other world leaders and making his determination clear to reach a deal at Copenhagen something that would have been unheard of with the Bush presidency.
Thus, in an effort to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ within five days of the G8 meeting London released its plans for Britain’s low-carbon future.
The Transition Plan sets out how the UK will meet the cut in emissions set out in its carbon budget of 34 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 Britain is the first country in the world to set itself legally binding carbon budgets. Around 50 per cent of the annual emissions cuts between now and 2020 will be achieved by a further greening of its electricity mix. The government expects 40 per cent of the electricity consumed in 2020 to come from low-carbon sources 30 per cent from renewables and the rest from nuclear (including new build) and clean coal. And all-but eliminating carbon from power generation by 2050.
According to the government, the Transition Plan is the most systematic response to climate change of any major developed economy, and sets the standard for others in the run up to the crucial global climate talks in Copenhagen.
Its reception as you would expect was mixed, with shadow climate and energy secretary Greg Clark saying that the last 12 years represent a “time of opportunity lost”, and others describing the plan as one giant catch-up exercise.
However, it is easy to criticize governments when they publish such programmes, especially this government, which has published quite a sizable number of energy white papers and associated plans and consultations over the last few years.
Others were more generous. With Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, saying that the announcement was very welcome because it significantly reduces investment risk, makes some clear choices on UK technology advantage and tackles some of the key barriers to deployment. However, he added: “The true test of this new clean tech industrialism is how this new policy framework drives the action and investment needed from business.” Some commentators even described the Transition Plan as “feeling different”, using words like “comprehensive”, “thoughtful” and “ambitious”.
Of course this does not mean that the low-carbon targets will be met. Any number of factors can get in the way, not least a change in government.