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The flaws in coalition climate policy

Derek Wall analyses Chris Huhne's recently announced climate change policy.

May 19, 2011
4 min read

A battle has been won for climate change and it seems petty or fundamentalist to criticise it. However, criticism of climate policy remains necessary.

While it is welcome that Chris Huhne has beaten his colleague Vince Cable and produced a policy for cutting emissions, it is debatable whether emissions will actually fall, and fall in a way that serves human beings and the environment rather than narrow corporate interests.

The recent announcement on climate change promises a reduction by 2050 of 80 per cent of CO2 compared with 1990 and promises binding legislation to achieve this.  Given the hegemony of climate change denial on the right and a huge fight by the Tresury to water down climate action this seems encouraging.  It also involves practical policies not just vague aspirations.  40 per cent of energy in the UK will come, it is proposed, from wind, waves and solar by 2030.  Heat pumps will be fitted to 2.6 million homes by 2025 and there will be an electric car revolution.

All apparently good.  However, binding legislation is never truly binding, a law to say that carbon will be cut, does not necessarily lead to effective policy.  Future governments may unbind! The target set also seems too modest to halt a rise in temperatures. However depressing, the political climate is such that realistic policies on climate are difficult to achieve.

There are also a series of get out clauses.  Ultimately the policy is within a carbon trading framework, so at worst we can go on producing as much CO2 as we do currently and buy carbon permits to permit more pollution.  Equally much of our carbon is embedded i.e. we import goods from countries like China whose manufacture leads to carbon emissions.  Such embedded CO2  is simply ignored

Equally the climate policy model contains a role for biofuels.  While biofuels sound superficially green they are highly damaging to the environment.  The main source of biofuels is palm oil from Colombia, Indonesia and Malaysia.  In all three countries rainforests are cleared to grow biofuel crops, which means that biodiversity is reduced and climate change actually increases.

There is also a nuclear clause, which means a highly polluting and dangerous technology is seen as a potential source of emissions reduction. And carbon capture is promoted.  At present this is an untested and uncertain technology, one wonders even with development whether it is realistic to store carbon for thousands of years without it leaking

The structural polices needed to meaningfully reduced climate change emissions are incomplete; yes there will be a new generation of renewables but this does not mean that carbon emissions will be reduced because so many government policies are hostile to real action on climate change.

Take transport, it’s not rocket science, we need good public transport.  While there is investment in rail, bus services are being decimated with public expenditure cuts.  People will be reliant on cars if there are no cheap convenient alternatives.  The real alternative to petrol and diesal is not the electric car but the traditional bus or train.  Rail fares are set to rise above inflation every year into the future. Far from encouraging us to let the train take the strain, rail fares are set to rise as much as 20 per cent over the next few years.  Going green is being made more difficult.

Another example is food, we need an organic local food revolution.  Fertilizers, pesticides and transportation of food are all sources of massive CO2.  So does the government give out land and encourages more growing? No, they have just launched a campaign to remove the legal duty for local authorities to provide allotments.

International action is also necessary.   Preserving rainforests must be a number one priority but countries that are devastating rainforests like Peru, where indigenous people have been massacred and the Amazon is being opened up for oil, are rewarded by the UK and EU with trade deals, while those countries with the greenest aspirations like Venezuela and Boliva in Latin America are in the cold.

We have a set of policies that are unlikely to reduce emissions enough and, no surprise from our neo-liberal government, do nothing for climate justice.

The UK needs a stronger and more militant climate justice movement, winning popular support for effective and social justice climate policies must be a priority for the Green Party, environmental campaigners and indeed all those on the left.

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