An independent scientific audit of the UK’s climate change policies predicts that the government will fall well below its target of a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 – which means that the country will not reach its 2020 milestone until 2050.
The report condemns government forecasts on greenhouse gas emissions as “very optimistic” and projects that the true reduction will be between 12 and 17%, making little difference to current CO2 emission levels.
The report is based on an analysis of the government’s attempts to meet climate change targets. The authors argue that because much policy is based on voluntary measures, the predicted outcomes cannot be relied upon. It is released on the day the environment minister, David Miliband, delivers a speech on the UK’s transition to a “post-oil economy”.
He will tell an audience at the University of Cambridge: “Al Gore says climate change is a planetary emergency. It is. But it is more than that. It is a humanitarian emergency – a threat to the security and survival of people, not just nature.
“The time is right to look at what it would mean for the UK over the period of 15 to 20 years to create a post-oil economy – a declaration less of ‘oil independence’ and more the end of oil dependence.”
But critics of the government’s record on climate change argue that despite the green-friendly rhetoric, it has failed to deliver sufficient reductions. “The policies are all going in the right direction and are all relatively well thought out, they just have to be enforced,” said Mark Maslin, director of University College London’s Environment Institute and one of the audit study’s authors. “In most sectors all the policies at the moment are voluntary. So basically nobody bothers.” The study was commissioned for Channel 4’s Dispatches, which will screen a documentary -Greenwash – on the findings presented by George Monbiot tonight.
The 30% cut by 2020 is a self-imposed government target that goes beyond the UK’s obligations under the Kyoto protocol – the figures are relative to 1990 levels. The UCL team’s 12 to 17% figure is based on downgrading the predictions considering the likely effects of policies.
For example, the government predicts that national transport emissions will rise by 4m tonnes. But this assumes that car manufacturers deliver on voluntary fuel efficiency targets. Such milestones have never been hit. The team also believes the government’s projections for the number of car journey’s in 2020 are an underestimate. The report predicts that emissions from national transport will actually rise by between 7m and 13m tonnes.
In the domestic energy sector, one much-trumpeted government policy is a set of new building regulations to make all new homes built after 2016 “zero carbon”. However, the UCL auditors are sceptical that this policy will deliver because of poor enforcement.
The researchers also believe domestic energy consumption will continue to rise faster than the government predicts due to demand for more energy intensive products, such as plasma televisions.
A Defra spokeswoman said the UK had already beaten its 2012 emissions target of 12.5% under the Kyoto protocol and that the latest figures for 2005 show a reduction of 15.3% on 1990 levels. “The action we have taken to cut our greenhouse gas emissions at the same time as maintaining economic growth makes us an exemplar. But we are not complacent and recognise that to reach our long term goals we need to do more,” she said.
James Randerson, science correspondent
5 March 2007
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