Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Climate Change is too important to be left to a Committee

Hilary Benn, our Environment Minister, was at Kew Gardens yesterday announcing an independent Climate Change Committee, while the Environment Audit Committee was calling for a Climate Change Minister.

(Of course we already have such a minister, but she is not supra-departmental, she is safely contained within Defra where she can't cause much fuss.)

Benn has responded to a lot of criticism of the Climate Change Bill, which had 17,000 respoonses (that's a lot), and made some changes:
  • asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;
  • Increased transparency, by requiring the Committee to publish its analysis and advice to Government on setting five-yearly carbon budgets, which are designed to provide clarity on the UK’s route towards its reduction targets;
  • Strengthening Parliament’s ability to hold Government to account, by requiring the Government to explain its reasons to Parliament if it does not accept the Committee’s advice on the level of the carbon budget, or if it does not meet a budget or target;
  • Providing better information and streamlining reporting, including requiring the Government to report annually to Parliament on emissions from international aviation and shipping; and
  • Strengthening the country’s preparedness for climate change by requiring the Government regularly to assess the risks of climate change to the UK, and to report to Parliament on its proposals and policies for sustainable adaptation to climate change.
This is all good. But it's not fast enough. The changes should happen now - for example Scotland has just decided to have a 80% reduction by 2050, as a policy matter, because the science now demands it.

A Committee will not help join up Government and prevent different departments (such as Transport and BERR) from committing to projects that are bound to undermine our climate change targets.

Only two policies could do this: individual carbon trading (allowed for in the Bill) and a Minister for Climate Change or Sustainable Development who can make sure all departments keep to the Sustainable Development Plans drawn up two years ago and quietly buried.

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