running a green office

UK carbon position in doubt

UK carbon position in doubt

Government claims that it is on target for a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 may be “very optimistic” and a more realistic figure would be 12-17%, according to a recent independent audit. If true it would mean the government missing its (expected) legally binding target of slashing emissions by 60% by 2050 and would be a serious failure of the government’s climate change strategy. And, even more devastating is the news from the government itself that the 2050 target may have to actually be strengthened as a wave of reports show the rate of global warming to be accelerating.

Channel 4’s Dispatches, which commissioned the research from the University College London’s Environmental Institute, argues that the reliance on voluntary rather than mandatory environmental regulations will mean that the government will not meet the targets widely expected to be made legally binding in the Climate Change Bill. The combination of lax regulations, feeble policing and optimistic government projections are the main problem. Policies would need to be mandatory if the 2020 target is to be met.

Cracks in the government assertions include basing predictions of low transport emissions on the assumption that manufacturers meet (currently) voluntary targets on improved fuel efficiency. This simply has not happened so far. The report expects transport emissions to be more than three times the government prediction of only four million tonnes.

And although energy efficiency in housing stock will improve, the government has not accounted for the corresponding spiralling demand for wide screen plasma televisions, gadgets and gizmos.

Although some UK retailers, such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco have woken up to the carbon crisis, there is still a lack of clear regulations. Business are crying out for clarity, but even the latest proposals for a five yearly “carbon budget” give little guidance on exactly how the new goals will be met.

The government has already been accused of breaking promises over the climate change bill which will only be published in draft form this year and will not become law until at least next year.

“[Environment secretary] David Miliband promised a Climate Change Bill this year, and even postponed the key Marine Bill in order to make Parliamentary time for it”, said Liberal Democrat shadow environment secretary, Chris Huhne. ”Now the government has announced that we will have neither the Climate change Bill nor the Marine Bill this year. This is not just a climb-down but a total shambles”. The government has announced draft proposals and consultation for the Climate Change Bill, which should become law next year.

Criticism also came recently from the renewable energy industry which labelled the government’s home renewable energy subsidy scheme a “farce” after new grants ran out in less than 90 minutes.

Even the government’s own environmental watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, has found that while the government lectures businesses on green issues, its own civil servants have largely failed to embrace environmentally sustainable behaviour. The report found that many departments did not even keep the most simple environmental performance data. Jonathon Porrit, Commission Chairman, says it is “simply not good enough”.

At the same time other surveys show that green business policies are very much the exception in the UK, and the majority of businesses do not have even basic green initiatives such as recycling or energy efficiency in place. A Labour Research Department (LRD) survey found that only one fifth of companies had comprehensive recycling schemes and 11% had energy efficiency programmes.

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