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October, 2007


Hutton's Ass about Face

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Recent indicators on the UK's policy on climate change are cause for concern. Maybe we're jumping the gun and getting it wrong but we should know in a week or so. Our reaction is based on a report about leaked UK government documents (John Vidal, The Guardian, 23 October 2007: "Leaked documents detail strategy for climate change U-turn"). The topic concerns the commitment that 20% of all European energy should come from renewable sources by 2020 and that, apparently, plans are afoot to collude with other European governments sceptical about climate change, to renege on our agreement and persuade other successful governments (eg Germany) to set lower targets. The possible change of heart may come about because John Hutton (secretary of state for business) argues that to meet this 20% target will cause 'severe practical difficulties'.
What are these putative difficulties? Well, this is what causes our dismay; just look at what he identifies as 'difficulties':

* persuading the Ministry of Defence and the shipping industry to accept more offshore wind power
* persuading them to accept increased costs for R & D for marine and tidal power
* if the targets are met it will undermine the European emissions trading scheme (which allows rich nations to continue with, and increase, their pollution)
* meeting the targets reduces the incentives to invest in other technologies like nuclear power
[Yes, these are identified as difficulties; personally we would describe them all as laudable objectives and that is why why we, so rudely, entitle this article thus.]
* the cost of meeting the UK target is estimated at 4bn a year.
[That's a lot but there is no mention of the financial benefits which could be reaped in the process, nor comparison with the ongoing cost of nuclear power. Indeed the government has already been taken to task by Greenpeace over the undemocratic decision to introduce more nuclear stations and Hutton expects them to make a second challenge. We certainly hope so and wish Greenpeace every success.]

Contrarily, the leaked papers say, that if the PM acts to dilute the targets, there may be a significant cost because the UK will have its perceived climate change leadership diminished. We say 'what leadership'? Tony Blair had a unique opportunity to be an international leader on this issue, during 2005, and flunked it, Britain has increased its renewable energy by about 2% over six years while Germany (think Angela Merkel) has achieved 9%. What Gordon Brown will do has yet to be revealed but, in our view, the portents are not good. However, we should see what he is made of early in November.
Finally, and ironically, this alleged document is revealed at the same time as the Global Carbon Project announces that climate change is now advancing much more rapidly than had been previously predicted due to increasing emissions and weakening of carbon sinks. If the rich and developed nations don't set a good example what chance has the world got?
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Originated: 18 December , 2007,  Last amended: 5 January, 2014