Public Meeting on the Climate Change bill, 22nd April 2008

The meeting was organised by Friends of the Earth and chaired by Anne McElvoy, editor of the Evening Standard. The location was the Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road.

Anne McElvoy – Executive Editor of the Evening Standard

Tony Juniper – Director of Friends of the Earth
Hilary Benn – Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Peter Ainsworth – Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Steve Webb – Liberal-Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This was a public meeting to discuss the Climate Change Bill. The Bill has been through the House of Lords and will be debated be debated in the House of Commons this year.

The format of the public meeting was for each of the four speakers to speak for a maximum of 10 minutes, after which the discussion was opened up to the floor for questions. The FoE website contains some highlights of the discussion.

Following are some notes I made from the meeting, including some interesting comments which were not reported in the FoE article.

Initial Speeches

Tony Juniper
Nicholas Stern said last week that he did not go far enough in his 2006 review.

International trading should not be a major part of targets for emission reductions. It should be above the targets set.

Hilary Benn
Defended the use of international trading by saying that the Earth does not mind where emission cuts are made.

Global social justice should determine the split of emissions that everyone is allowed to make. The current split of emissions between rich and poor nations is inequitable.

The Labour government has made good progress in that emissions in 2010 are projected to be 16% below the level in 1990, significantly better than the Kyoto target of 10%.

Some people say that if Britain goes first and acts now against climate change this will hurt the economy and put Britain at a disadvantage to those countries that do not act. Similar arguments were made about the slave trade before it was abolished. Yet when Britain was the first to ban slave trading it did not hurt the British economy, but it did encourage other countries to do the same.

Peter Ainsworth
Listed the areas where the Conservatives, in partnership with the Liberal Democrats, strengthened the Climate Change Bill during its passage through the House of Lords:
*Strengthened the climate change committee,
*Added a duty to engage with the public,
*Added a duty to publish the advice that is given to government,
*If government disagrees with the committee it will have to say why
*Added sectoral targets
*Annual reports including an assessment of progress
*An adaptation sub-committee
*A cap on carbon trading of 30% [he admitted that this cap has no scientific basis]
*The PM to be given a pivotal role
*The first clause of the bill was changed to state that the aim of the Act is to restrict the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Targets should be set by scientists not by politicians. No serious observer believes that a 60% cut in emissions by 2050 will be enough.

He finished by attacking the current government’s apparent hypocrisy of making grand speeches about climate changes then ushering in an expansion of Heathrow and other airports, allowing the first new coal fired power station in a generation and allowing a bio-fuels policy that will sacrifice the orang-utan.

Steve Webb
DEFRA is a “minnow among wolves” – a deliberately mixed metaphor! It is a piddling department that is broke and is having to bail out farm payments by cutting back on energy efficiency payments.

The government have produced an energy bill that does not mention energy efficiency!

The Liberal-Democrats proposed that the climate change bill should be amended to specify an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. The Conservatives abstained, hence the Bill still currently has the inadequate 60% target in it.

If aviation and shipping are included in calculations of emissions, then current UK emission levels are the same as in 1990. No progress has been made at all during the last 18 years.

Question and Answer Session
What enforcement mechanisms are envisaged for the climate change act?
There is no legal sanction currently envisaged. Public opinion is the only court to which this bill will be held.

The Conservative former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson has recently published the book “An Appeal to Reason” which dismisses climate change as scare-mongering What is Peter Ainsworth’s response to this?
PA noted the odd fact that a large proportion of British climate change sceptics are part of the Lawson family. He has debated with Lord Lawson and has the following response. “You disagree with 2,500 world class scientists who have devoted their careers to understanding this problem. Are you a scientist? No. End of argument.”

What about carbon rationing as part of the solution?
PA Carbon rationing is a good idea whose time hasn’t come. The public objection to such a measure would make the poll tax riots look like a tea party.
The other politicians agreed that carbon rationing was not yet a viable policy.

TJ The public should be educated a lot more on the benefits of early action on climate change.

Shouldn’t we be consuming and using less “stuff” as part of the solution?
PA replied that he had attended the Johannesberg conference on sustainable development. We must aim for sustainable consumption and live within a finite Earth. We have spent the last 200 years since the industrial revolution behaving as if the World is infinite. We have got to start using less stuff and being smarter about what we do use.

SW “Vote for the Lib-Dems and we will make you use less stuff” is probably a second-term Liberal-Democrat strategy! Using less stuff is the destination, but it is a long route to get there.

TJ We live in a consumer culture. Having more material goods is a sign of status. The government could influence the public by controlling advertising. For example, most car adverts are for cars in the most polluting tax bands E and F, as these expensive luxury cars have larger profit margins. We put health warnings on cigarettes, what about putting health warnings on Porsches.

Nicky Gavron, deputy mayor of London
This was not so much a question as a statement of what London is doing regarding climate change policy. London has a target of a 60% emission reduction by 2025. They are setting up a group of 40 of the biggest polluting cities (the “C40” group) to collaborate on anti-climate change measures.

Shouldn’t aviation and shipping be included in the climate change bill?
SW Agreed. We cannot allow the Secretary of State to decide that aviation and shipping should not be included within the climate change bill.

HB Aviation and shipping must be dealt with by international agreement, because planes and ships have a choice as to where they refuel. If fuel is highly taxed in the UK they will simply re-fuel in other countries with lower fuel tax rates.

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