Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Northwest Climate Group[49] (U23)


  1.  The Presidency of the G8 and the Council of the European Union presents the UK Government with a marvellous opportunity to push forward action on climate change. The following submission outlines a number of areas where we believe the Government needs to take action if global efforts to reduce carbon emissions are to succeed. The submission outlines the need to lead by example, highlighting some of the areas where, domestically, the Government faces challenges that need to be addressed. These include transport, the move towards a low carbon economy and efforts to change behaviour. We believe that if the Government can succeed in taking forward this agenda in the UK, then its opportunity to lead internationally will be enhanced. The submission ends by focusing specifically on crucial areas for action on the international stage.


  2.  It should be recognised that this UK Government has continually been at the forefront of efforts to promote international action on climate change, and the Prime Minister's recent speech reiterated this. If the UK is to continue to exert influence on this issue, pressing other countries to take action, it is important that the UK itself is seen as a world leader in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, whilst ensuring that the country is prepared for the inevitable impacts of climate change. Through the Climate Change Programme, the target of a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) level by 2050, and the success of the UK Climate Impacts Programme, UK Government has been setting an example for other countries to follow. However, while the UK's Kyoto targets are likely to be met, there is increasing uncertainty as to whether the Government's own target of a 20% reduction in CO2 from a 1990 baseline by 2010 will be realised. Indeed, such doubts have recently led the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee[50] to insist that the Government's climate change strategy is "seriously off course". If we are unlikely to meet the 2010 target, this does not bode well for a 60% reduction by 2050.

  3.  We believe that there a number of significant reasons behind these problems that will need to be addressed if the UK is to continue to lead the way in addressing climate change, and these are outlined below. Clear action by the Government will have innumerable benefits, through acting as an exemplar for other countries to follow and providing a framework within which regional and local actors can pursue their own strategies. Climate change is more that just an environmental issue—it is a sustainable development issue too. Economically, action to mitigate against further emissions and to adapt to inevitable climate change makes compelling. Socially, it is the more disadvantaged in our society, both regionally, nationally and internationally, who will suffer the worst effects of climate change. As with the more broad issue of sustainable development, climate change as an issue cuts across different policy areas and as such needs to be incorporated into all policy development, not ghettoised in environmental departments. This is something that we believe this Government is committed to and we hope that they will continue to communicate this message globally.

  4.  Our specific areas of comment follow below and encompass transport, moving towards a low carbon economy, changing behaviour, and a section focused more explicitly on global issues.


  5.  Despite the desires expressed by the Government, CO2 emissions have risen in recent years, and this growth has largely arisen due to transport. If the current trends continue then the CO2 targets will not be reached. There is a need for a range of measures to be taken to address this problem. One approach is legislation at the European level, to ensure that car manufacturers continue to develop efficient cars that run on cleaner fuels. The other option is the use of economic incentives. It is essential that in addition to proposed use of road charging, some environmental-based taxation, for example through effective differential vehicle excise duty charges, are utilised. If this is to influence behaviour the differences between bands of charge will need to increase substantially above current levels. The fact that the real costs of motoring have fallen in recent years must be communicated clearly to the wider public. The current reluctance of the Government to raise fuel excise sends out the wrong message.

  6.  It is recognised that there is a difference between how private and business transport are considered. The Government needs to ensure that businesses in the UK are not put at a disadvantage, compared to European counterparts, due to higher transport costs. The Government should continue to work with industry in the UK to reduce the CO2 emissions from business transport. For example, schemes such as the Energy Saving Trust Powershift programme need increased levels of funding and improved co-ordination in order to take its aim of getting more cleaner vehicles on the road out into the wider business community. Working to ensure that more Compressed Natural Gas pumps are placed in main brand petrol stations would also help. The Government must work to ensure that such efforts are being made EU-wide.

  7.  Encouraging citizens and business to use more efficient, cleaner vehicles will help to reduce the carbon emissions from transport, but it is not sufficient on its own. It is imperative that both businesses and citizens have access to reliable, affordable alternative modes of transport. The Government needs to send a clear signal that it values public transport and encourages its use. From a regional perspective, the decision to withdraw funding from the expansion of the Manchester Metrolink is a blow to the development of a sustainable transport system. Good transport links are key to the functioning of a successful economy. Efficient connections can provide access to markets, enhance inward investment, help to stimulate competition and support the mobility of labour markets. As a region, the Northwest suffers from levels of congestion second only to that of London and investment in sustainable transport solutions would not only help bring about a reduction in carbon emissions but would help boost the region's economy.

  8.  The contribution of air travel to CO2 emissions cannot continue to be ignored. The recent transport White Paper did nothing to address the impacts that aviation has on emissions. Against the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environment Pollution,[51] the Government recently gave the go-ahead for a programme of airport development. The Prime Minister's pledge to bring aviation into the European emission trading scheme, is welcome, but will not be sufficient on its own. Relating to the previous point on public transport, the UK is practically unique in that given its size, it relies heavily on domestic flights. Further investment to ensure that the country is covered by a fast, efficient rail service is essential to provide an alternative for air freight and passenger transport if this reliance is to be broken. Under current frameworks, emissions from international flights fall between the cracks with no one taking responsibility for their release. The UK Government should look to take a lead in ensuring that the issue of air transport emissions is addressed at the international level and that all options, including the possibility of a tax on aviation fuel, are considered.


  9.  A 60% cut in CO2 emissions would constitute a move towards a low carbon economy. This will not happen without concerted effort and will require a strong lead from Government. This will need to be a embedded in all Government departments, and will have to be a primary consideration in all policy development. Recent changes to planning guidance will help encourage the development of renewable energy. This Government has demonstrated a commitment to the development of renewable energy and this needs to continue and expand. The Prime Minister's call for a green technology revolution needs to be bolstered with investment so that technologies not currently deemed to be economically viable are encouraged.

  10.  Economic measures to ensure that industry takes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are welcomed. However, these need to be carefully monitored if they are to bring real success. For example, the Environmental Audit Committee highlighted a concern about the effectiveness of Climate Change Agreements. We support the Committee's call for independent monitoring (or audit) of these measures, with the full publication of the results. Advice to industry on measures that they can take to reduce energy consumption must continue, and should be expanded where there are gaps. The increased support for the Carbon Trust is welcomed here.

  11.  Efforts are also needed to reduce household carbon emissions. Support for the promotion and implementation of energy efficiency measures needs to be at the core of this and more resources should be directed to support initiatives that are already under way (regarding public awareness see paragraph 14 below). In addition consideration should be given to measures such as differential pricing for energy, depending on its source.


  12.  Underpinning any serious moves towards the Government's aspirational target of a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions is the need for behavioural change of industry and the wider public. The Government needs to be taking the lead and this will not involve easy options.

  13.  As recognised in "Climate Change: the UK programme", current levels of consumption are unsustainable. One problem is that the true environmental costs of many activities and products are not currently reflected in their price. Environmentally driven taxes provide one approach towards redressing this imbalance but this is not something that is being taken forward with sufficient vigour. The failure of the Government to initiate any meaningful debate on the need for taxation to help reduce emissions needs to be addressed.

  14.  The Government needs to improve engagement of the wider public on the threat that climate change poses and, importantly, the actions that need to be taken in response. A recent survey in Wales[52] showed that while people are concerned about climate change, many still do not know what actions they can take to help to reduce emissions. The Chief Scientist has talked of climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism. The Government has recently circulated a document on how to respond to a terrorist attack to every household in the UK. Perhaps the time has come for a similar exercise to help people understand the full range of the potential impacts of climate change, including increased insurance premiums, increased risks of flooding, health risks etc. Such awareness-raising tools need to make clear what actions individuals can take to respond. This could cover actions that people can take in their day-to-day lives, and also present a clear picture of the options that we are faced with as a society. The current unsustainable use of transport could be highlighted with the true cost of motoring outlined. Equally, the choices that we face in terms of energy generation could be discussed. Do we continue to invest in renewable forms of energy generation (which in the short term will mean more wind turbines)? Do we invest in nuclear generation? Do we expect individuals to make large cuts in their energy use?


  15.  The Government needs to work to ensure that the EU as a whole takes action that goes beyond the Kyoto agreements. The goal of the EU to be the most competitive economy globally does not take into account the three pillars of sustainable development and this should be rectified. Such commitment is necessary if the EU is to lead the world in addressing climate change, a lead that is particularly important in light of the absence of concerted US action.

  16.  The UK Government needs to continue to use whatever influence it has to persuade the US Government of the necessity of taking action over climate change. It is imperative that the US is brought back into the Kyoto fold. At the same time, efforts need to be made to ensure that recent moves by Russia towards ratification of the Kyoto Protocol are followed through.

  17.  The G8 includes many of the top greenhouse gas emitters, and the Presidency gives the UK the chance to begin to discuss and generate consensus on post-Kyoto measures. The UK Government should try and translate the goals that it has set for itself, a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions, into an international framework. Serious consideration should be given to approaches that will ensure greater equity between the developed and developing world, for example the "contraction and convergence approach".

  18.  The Government has identified two priorities for the presidency of the G8—climate change and Africa. While these can be treated as separate issues they are highly intertwined and the links need to be explored and clearly explained. As the Prime Minister recognises, it is in the developing countries where the greatest effects of climate change will be felt. One area where the UK has led the world, through work co-ordinated by UKCIP, is in the study of measures to adapt to climate change. Irrespective of actions taken now to mitigate carbon emissions, some level of climate change is inevitable. The development of a co-ordinated international programme that would enable research on impacts of climate change in developing countries to be undertaken, and for possible adaptation measures to be identified, would be welcomed. This would have to be backed by concrete financial support and/or technology to implement appropriate measures.

  19.  In terms of development issues, we were pleased to see the recent statement from the Department for International Development, on the World Bank response to the Extractive Industries Review. The benefit that increased investment in renewable energy could bring to communities in the developing world could be enormous. As a major donor to the World Bank, the UK Government is in a very strong position to influence the approach that the Bank takes. By working through the G8, persuading others of the value of its arguments, the weight of influence would be unstoppable. Investment in community-based renewable energy provision in the developing world would have strong knock on effects for the UK Government as it continues to try and lead the international community on issues such as debt relief and poverty reduction.

1 October 2004

49   The Northwest Climate Group is a public/private partnership that aims to ensure that consideration of climate change is central to all decision making within the Northwest region and beyond. Back

50   House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, 2004, Budget 2004 and Energy, Tenth Report of Session 2003-04. Back

51   Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 2002, The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight, Special Report. Back

52   Friends of the Earth Cymru and the Welsh Consumer Council, 2004, Climate Concern: attitudes to climate change and wind farms in WalesBack

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