British plan would go beyond EU on carbon emissions

Times Staff Writer

The British government proposed Tuesday to impose mandatory reductions in carbon emissions, taking the lead in Europe’s efforts to slow the pace of global climate change.

New legislation is not as stringent as many political leaders are seeking. But Prime Minister Tony Blair’s draft bill calls for reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050, with five-year “carbon budgets” reviewed annually through a government committee on climate change.

Unlike the reduction targets enshrined in the international Kyoto Protocol, which many nations have failed to meet, Britain’s compliance would be mandatory under the proposed law and subject to unspecified enforcement through the courts. The measure proposes steeper and swifter reductions than the European Union’s plan, adopted Friday, to achieve an overall 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

The British proposal foresees cuts of 26% to 32% by 2020.

Europe’s debate is only beginning, with the difficult process of allocating reductions among the member states still ahead.

“The world is waking up to the dangers we face,” Blair said in his introduction to the bill, which the government hopes will become law by 2008. “And just as human ingenuity has accidentally caused climate change, I believe it can play a huge role in helping us undo the damage.


“But we need to take action now, we need to take it collectively, and for the richer nations to support the poorer ones.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has overseen the adoption of similar legislation in California, joined Blair for the launch by satellite link via the ITN network. He said technology and carbon tradeoff partnerships across the globe would allow gains that would not be achievable individually.

“This is a huge, huge announcement,” Schwarzenegger said of the proposed British legislation.

Government officials said the legislation is unique in attempting to bind future governments to carbon reductions by making failure to achieve targets reviewable by the courts.

It is not yet clear how the courts would enforce the targets or what punishment would be imposed for failing to meet them. Nor does the proposed law stipulate precisely how carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced.

Discussion so far has centered on widespread investment in renewable energy sources, encouraging new fuel technologies and a raft of policies such as taxes on airline flights, fines on polluting industries, and new manufacturing standards to eliminate high-energy light bulbs and encourage standby modes on electronic equipment.

Blair said international partnerships such as the one Britain signed with California last year would pave the way for a global system of technology and emissions tradeoffs that ultimately would be the only way of achieving climate change goals.

California’s regulation is even more ambitious than the British proposal, calling for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

Britain’s opposition Conservatives also have been pushing for action on climate change and criticized the new legislation for not setting annual reduction targets. Conservative leaders said establishing five-year carbon budgets could allow the onus for compliance to be pushed onto future governments.

Conservative leader David Cameron has also called for steeper taxes on aviation, especially short-haul domestic flights that passengers could replace with train travel. New energy taxes should be offset by other tax reductions, Cameron said.

Many environmental groups also have urged annual targets. Friends of the Earth welcomed the proposed law but called for it to be even stronger, with targeted emission cuts of 3% every year, annual progress reports and taxes on international aviation and shipping emissions.

“The government’s current target -- a cut in emissions of 60% by 2050 -- is no longer considered to be a sufficient contribution by the U.K. or other developed countries,” the organization said in a statement.

Business leaders were also positive, with reservations. Richard Lambert, director of the Confederation of British Industry, called the proposed legislation “a big step forward” in offering business “the two things we really need: long-term clarity on policy direction and flexibility in its delivery.”

He argued that the annual reduction targets advocated by the Conservatives and environmental groups would present “impractical constraints.”