17 march 2009

UK government carbon targets 'too weak' to prevent dangerous climate change, scientists say

David Adam, environment correspondent The Guardian, Tuesday 17 March 2009

Official advice being used to set Britain's first carbon budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change, experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research say

Proposed government carbon targets are too weak to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, according to a new analysis by leading scientists. Ministers are poised to introduce strict limits on UK carbon pollution when they announce Britain's first carbon budget next month. But experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warn today that official advice used to set the budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change.

It comes after scientists at a global warming conference in Copenhagen last week warned that emissions are rising faster than expected, and that climate change could strike harder and faster than predicted.

The Tyndall Centre report analyses the conclusions of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which said in December that ministers should aim to cut UK carbon emissions 34% by 2020, as part of worldwide efforts to limit temperature rise to 2C.

The Tyndall scientists say the committee's report is "inevitably and significantly compromised" because it focuses on limiting temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels, which the EU defines as dangerous. The committee was forced to use "highly optimistic and sometimes unclear assumptions" to hit the 2C target, they say.

Chief among these, they say, was that global emissions of greenhouse gases would peak in 2016, despite little evidence that such a U-turn in soaring emisions within seven years is "in any way viable". A peak of emissions in 2020, which the Tyndall Centre says is more realistic, would leave governments facing an impossible challenge to hit the 2C target, it adds.

"The CCC's first report is therefore inevitably and significantly compromised by its implicit need to deliver demanding but nonetheless politically palatable conclusions in line with the 2C threshold," the scientists say. "Peaking in 2020 would recast the agenda as much more radical and urgent, and well beyond the ability, even if applied stringently, of orthodox policies to deliver the necessary mitigation and adaptation."

The government should aim to cut emissions 42% by 2020 - the most stringent scenario in the CCC report - the Tyndall Centre says, and must make the cuts at home rather than buying offsets abroad. These proposals are backed by more than 90 Labour MPs – including four ministerial aides – in a parliamentary petition.

Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre said: "At a time when the message from Copenhagen is for urgent action and leadership, paying poorer communities elsewhere to make the reductions for the UK risks undermining seriously the government's hard-earned reputation as leading the international climate change agenda."

The findings of the report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, will be presented at a special meeting of the Environmental Audit Committee today.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director, said: "This advice from one of the world's leading climate research centres cannot be ignored. If we are to play our part in avoiding dangerous climate change, the government must commit the UK to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42 per cent by 2020 without buying pollution 'offsets' from abroad. The UK has one of the best renewable energy potentials in Europe. Investing in green power and cutting energy waste can create tens of thousands of jobs and help lead this country out of recession."

The CCC said: "The choice of peaking year was more determined by what we thought might be possible if a global deal was achieved in 2009. The CCC analysis drew upon, and cited, a number of studies which suggested that global emissions could peak around 2016 if the world dedicated sufficient intellectual and material resources towards solving the problem."

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