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Government under siege on climate change

Large companies would be forced to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions to a common standard under proposals by Conservative Party think tank the Quality of Life Policy Group. The Group, chaired by former environment minister John Gummer, was formed by David Cameron to provide independent input to the Conservatives on every aspect of the “quality of life” agenda.

The Group’s report said action needs to be taken to break the chain of “carbon apathy” between sources of capital and the companies they own. To this end it is also recommended that pension fund trustees be made to consider climate change when making investments.

Recommendations also address the airline industry — a major and rising source of carbon emissions — with a proposal to reform air passenger duty as per-flight rather than per-passenger, in order to reflect emissions more closely and give airlines an incentive to fill empty planes. A moratorium on planned airport expansion is also proposed.

This report received the qualified backing of both business and environmental groups. Michael Roberts, director of business environment at the Confederation of British Industry, said: “We agree with John Gummer that there does not have to be a contradiction between greenness and economic success … But not every idea is a runner, and it is not clear how a carrot and stick approach that remains tax neutral will hang together as a whole …

“For example, the report is right that the regulatory system needs to give better incentives to airlines to cut their carbon emissions. But the most effective and efficient way to do this is to include aviation in the EU’s carbon trading system, not to impose an arbitrary and damaging moratorium on much needed airport development”.

Friends of the Earth, the environmental campaigner, meanwhile urged David Cameron to endorse the bulk of the report, and even suggested other parties should accept the report as a major contribution to the debate on climate change, rather than an opportunity to score cheap political points.

The Policy Group report coincided with warnings by the environment, food and rural affairs committee that the UK government is failing to encourage individuals and communities to join the fight against climate change. Climate change: the “citizen’s agenda” also found that UK business may well be missing out on the valuable opportunities that come with being a market leader in microgeneration technologies.

The report suggests that the government is currently letting companies off too lightly, both on energy saving standards for products and on carbon emissions reduction targets. The report referred, for instance, to the “appalling waste of energy” created by electrical equipment being left on standby, and recommend that – while making clear the efforts being made in international negotiations to achieve the “end of standby” – as an interim measure the government should initiate voluntary agreements with manufacturers on improving product standards.

Also of concern is “apparent poverty of government ambition” for the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC). The existing emission reduction targets are so undemanding, it was reported, that suppliers had already met 93% of the target for EEC2 (2005-08) by the end of the second year. Given, said the report, that the EEC is not even funded from the government’s own budget, this demonstrates a “woeful lack of ambition”.

The report argues the government should be doing more to improve the credibility of green taxation as part of its overall policy. It was recommended that the government consider, for instance, increasing tax on poorly performing electronic goods, the revenue from which could go into a fund used to support emissions reduction projects.

The report was hailed as “inspirational” by Friends of the Earth. Ed Matthew, the environmental group’s senior new economics campaigner, commented: “The government could be accused of a lack of imagination and ambition for failing so dismally to help people cut emissions. If they ignore the findings of this report it is likely to lead to accusations of gross negligence”.

Nor were the Liberal Democrats silent on this issue. Their Brighton conference saw party members back a ten-point plan to tackle climate change. Among the Lib Dem’s plans are proposals to make Britain carbon neutral by 2050, increased use of green taxes to help cut pollution, and the phasing out of petrol cars by 2040.

What do you think?