Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Staring at The Sun

The beleaguered Environment Secretary, fast-driver Chris Huhne revealed the Government's much debated Carbon Budget today, ostentatiously declaring that it will become a legally binding requirement for the Government to achieve a 50% reduction in carbon emissions on their 1990 level by the UK by 2025 to tackle global warming. He has done so in spite of bitter opposition from his fellow Lib Dem, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, as well as from the climate sceptics who inhabit the Tory benches like a horde of neanderthals.

On the face of it, it is a significant achievement and it has been welcomed by some environmental campaigners. But, on closer inspection, the announcement raises more questions than it answers.

1. How will the 50% by 2025 impact on the current plans by the Government to abolish the Climate Change Act on the grounds of it creating too much "red tape" for business and the legally binding target of an 80% reduction by 2050 (which general scientific consensus says is necessary to prevent run-away global warming)?

2. Although the plan includes scope for renewables, recent Government decisions will make it much harder to obtain funding to install community and large scale solar farms. So will the focus move to building new nuclear power stations on the dubious grounds that  nuclear energy is carbon-friendly?

3. The plan allows Britain to trade emissions credits with other countries that have lower carbon emissions - mostly poorer ones. This will at least involve some transfer of money to these countries, but given that their emissions are always among the lowest, will it genuinely achieve any reduction in carbon emissions?

4. Why have we kept that wonderful opt-out card that, if other countries don't do enough, we can stop doing anything? Who on earth came up with that idea?

Of course, in the Tory press and blogosphere the announcement has brought forth a chorus of criticism of how this will damage British manufacturing. And of course the sceptics have been out in force - the Daily Telegraph readers were particularly perplexed by it all:

For the 12 months of last year, I had a subscription to Scientific American. Month after month, there were articles about global warming. In every article, it was taken as read that Global Warming is A FACT. It seemed to me, as I read the articles, that anyone who wanted an article published had to adhere to that basic tenant. 

and this:
The whole climate change debate shoukd be quietly slinking away into oblivion. Don't you get it... We were all conned! The politicos won't admit it as they might be lynched.

and very bizarrely:

None of us KNOWS whether the CO2 science is categorically right or wrong.
But we do know that £13M to reopen the McCann kidnap case is an utter waste of money....

And, assuming he is still in office, it is this sort of pseudo-scientific garbage, propounded by Tory MP after Tory MP, that will probably do for Huhne's attempts to put these proposals into legislation. As was evident in a variety of surveys and stories up to the 2010 General Election, Conservative Party candidates were the least concerned of all parties about global warming by a very wide margin indeed - some described it as a "scam" with ludicrous claims of a vast leftwing conspiracy to use climate change as a means of destroying industry. In addition, the Telegraph itself reported in January last year, a meagre 6% of the top 250 Conservative candidates expressed any desire at all to reduce the UK's carbon footprint in a Conservative Home survey.

All this stands in the face of all the evidence: that the Earth is losing 25 billion tonnes of oxygen each year; that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have risen by 50% since the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, and that month after month, year after year, new records are being broken in the extremity of our weather patterns. Last month was the warmest UK April on record and this month is likely to be the warmest May. The USA has just had the largest set of cyclones recorded in decades, while British nature goes to pot - hibernating animals emerge early with the risk of dying again if there is a sudden change, while the strawberry crop has ripened so early that there will be none left for consumption during the Wimbledon tennis competition.

The objectives announced today require a lot of detailed explanation about what they will actually mean and to prove they are more than just a stunt. But as important to its success or failure will be what support will be salvaged from among Tory MPs.

Meantime, the forecast is for another heatwave.

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