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climate change > newsfile > uk given only four years to combat climate change

UK given only four years to combat climate change

Posted: 15 Sep 2006

The British Government has only four years to implement a major new programme of action to cut carbon emissions if the UK is to play its part in keeping global temperatures below danger levels an authoritative new report warns today.

The report, launched by The Co-operative Bank and Friends of the Earth, is based upon research commissioned from The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester. It is the UK's first comprehensive roadmap to a low carbon economy that would deliver on Government commitments to keep temperatures from rising beyond a critical point.

It suggests that a carbon budget of around 4.6 Giga tonnes between 2000 and 2050 would allow the UK to play its part in keeping temperatures from rising two degree centigrade above pre-industrial levels - the danger level. If emissions continue at the current rate the UK would emit close to double this amount by 2050.

Road map

The study also outlines what the Government could do - and by when -to keep within this carbon budget and maps out how homes, business and transport in the UK could change as a result. The report demonstrates that:

  • The UK can achieve the necessary carbon reductions if the Government implements a major programme of action within the next 4 years. Delaying action will require much more drastic and less manageable cuts.

  • The UK needs to achieve significant emission cuts - of around 70 per cent - within the next 30 years. Government targets of a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 are insufficient as they do not provide for enough reductions within the necessary timescale.

  • UK carbon emissions have not fallen since 1990. Government calculations which show a decrease are misleading as they fail to take into account emissions from international shipping and aviation.

As a first step towards a low carbon economy Friends of the Earth's Big Ask Campaign and The Co-operative Bank - through its customer care scheme - are calling for a climate change bill to be introduced into Parliament this year which would commit the Government to reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by at least 3 per cent year on year. A law would provide Government and business with the framework they need to turn the climate road map into a reality.

A Future starts here: the route to a low carbon economy outlines key milestones on the path to a low carbon economy including:

Year 2010

From now until 2010 the Government has used its spending and regulatory powers to control the growth in energy demand - for example by phasing out the most inefficient light bulbs and phasing in domestic aviation fuel tax. Industry and the service sector have been set more challenging targets to cut their emissions and there has been a big increase in investment in public transport.

Government policies take time to bear fruit however the Government has met its target for sourcing 10 per cent of the UK's electricity needs from renewables. While on the high street there has been a jump in sales of energy efficient appliances and smaller energy efficient cars.

Year 2030

Carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by 70 per cent. The Government of 2030 provides strong financial incentives for business to reduce emissions and to invest in research and development into new climate friendly technologies - for example by using the taxation system or an extension of the EU emissions trading scheme.

Policy measures introduced from 2010 are having a big impact. One quarter of all energy demand is met by renewable power and biofuels, and fossil fuels are used much more efficiently including using waste heat for local domestic and industrial use. Capturing and storing carbon dioxide in old gas and oilfields is also used for removing emissions from fossil fuel power stations.

Energy demand from households and commercial sector has been reduced by a quarter. New and refurbished properties have a near zero demand for space heating and cooling thanks to improved building design. Travel in the UK and around Europe is by larger trains as air travel is largely reserved for long haul flights. There are 10 per cent less cars on the roads and city centres are largely car free.

Year 2050

Carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by 90 per cent. The Government of 2050 continues to deliver year on year cuts in emissions, however financial incentives become less important as public demand and research and development drives innovation.

The use of coal, oil and gas has declined by 70 per cent from 2004. Over a third of electricity needs are met locally through renewables such as building integrated wind turbine and solar panels. While hydrogen - produced from renewable energy sources or fossil fuels - accounts for about a quarter of total energy use. Hydrogen fuel cells in homes and multi-fuel filling stations that provide cars with hydrogen, electricity and - to a lesser extent - bio-fuels are commonplace.

Decisive action

Commenting on the report, the Director of Corporate Affairs at The Co-operative Bank, Simon Williams said: "This is more than yet another wake up call. Even if scientists take a gloomy view of the continually increasing human impact on our environment, this report illustrates that if we start acting now, the required carbon reductions are achievable, albeit with some potentially uncomfortable changes for our lifestyles. Decisive action from Government is demanded."

Research Director for the Tyndall Centre's Energy and Climate Change Programme, Dr Kevin Anderson said: "Our research demonstrates that the UK can move to a low carbon economy. However the journey will become much more demanding the longer the Government leaves it to act. To make a smooth transition to a low carbon future the Government, business and we as individuals need to immediately begin to implement a major programme of action to significantly reduce our carbon emissions."

The need for government action was stressed by Tony Juniper, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. "To turn this road map into reality we need a law that commits this and future Governments to making annual cuts in the UK's carbon emissions - as called for by The Big Ask climate campaign. Without this law politicians will continue to place short term gains ahead of the long term decisions needed to get to grips with climate change."

Note: Research published in 2005 at the UK Government's scientific conference on climate change concluded that preventing temperatures from rising above 2 degrees centigrade would mean keeping the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as far below 450 parts per million as possible. The report says UK Government targets are based on achieving concentrations of 550 parts per million and as such will not produce the reduction in carbon dioxide needed.

For more information on The Big Ask go to: www.thebigask.com.

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