... because we had a mild winter.
Today the independent Climate Change Committee made its annual report to the Government on UK’s progress towards meeting its emission reduction targets. The headline figures look good: greenhouse gas emissions fell by 7% in 2011. However, the Committee has done its sums and worked out that this was mainly due to a mild winter, compared to the previous very cold one, coupled with falling real incomes and rising fuel prices. Subtracting off these effects, the underlying fall in emissions was only 0.8%.
This is not good enough, says the Committee. We need a fourfold change in the underlying trend in emission reductions. The Committee had originally said that time was needed for government policies to begin to bite but that time has now run out. New policies being developed now will be crucial if the UK is to reach its future carbon budgets.
Underneath the headlines some fascinating detail emerged. A dash for gas in terms of exploiting shale gas (so-called fracking) will not help to combat climate change. It is far too expensive and if only 3 to 5% of the gas escapes to the atmosphere the effect will be worse than using coal. Agricultural emissions are up for crop production in spite of less crops being produced because of increased application of fertiliser. New car emissions fell in 2011 but electric cars are still the best bet for the future.
Overall, the Committee’s report to government is clear though, “could do a lot better and must try harder”.
From Ivan Scrase, RSPB Senior Climate Change Policy Officer
With the UK’s energy policy proposals under fire from MPs, the National Audit Office and the Major Projects Authority, it is clear some new thinking is needed. There is no doubt it is an immense challenge to find workable policies that will not just ‘keep the lights on’, but also drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and ensure people can afford the energy supplies they need. Thankfully, help is at hand.
Today a broad-based group of stakeholders released a joint communiqué Securing the UK’s power supplies: how to do it successfully, sustainably, and cost-effectively. It calls for constructive changes to the UK Government’s energy policies in four areas – managing primary energy demand, affordability of energy, reducing carbon intensity and environmental risks, and maintaining security of energy supply.
The RSPB supports the calls for an energy policy re-think to achieve: (i) effective, focused energy efficiency policies and programmes; (ii) protection for low-income consumers, (iii) better conditions for investment in renewable energy, and (iv) measures to ensure we rapidly achieve a secure and climate-friendly electricity sector.
The communiqué follows a series of roundtables, in which the RSPB participated, organised by the University of Exeter, Scottish and Southern Energy, WWF and Consumer Focus. It is exciting that energy companies, consumer organisations, academics, NGOs, think tanks, manufacturers and investors came together in this way, and reached consensus on what’s needed to deliver a secure, clean and affordable power sector for the UK.
We hope that Government will listen and respond with urgent action to save energy, vastly improve its draft Energy Bill so that it works for renewable energy, and introduce a target to decarbonise electricity by 2030.
You can read the Joint Communiqué here and see what the organisations involved have to say here. And do share your thoughts below.
The polar ends of our world are incredibly special places – cold, wild and remote, little known by most of and yet with an amazing pull on our consciousnesses. Whilst Antarctica is protected by its UN Treaty, the Arctic is open to territorial claims from several countries and commercial interests. As its natural resources become more economically viable, helped both by shrinking ice and dwindling resources elsewhere, the pressure on the Arctic is increasing. So much so that we stand to lose one of the world's last great wildernesses in yet another rush for riches. So the launch of Greenpeace’s Arctic campaign is timely and welcome: http://www.savethearctic.org/
The RSPB shares deep concerns about the potential for a resources grab in the Arctic. Quite apart from the risks of extracting oil and gas, and the difficulties of tackling a spill in remote and harsh places, we should actually not even be considering their extraction and use: it’s incompatible with addressing climate change. The IEA world energy outlook report warns that we’re on the path to dangerous levels of climate change and that we will be locked into this path by 2017 unless new investment is substantially redirected into low carbon technologies. We need the massive investment being considered for the Arctic to be directed to new renewables, not to new fossil fuels.
And the irony of this desire for Arctic fossil fuel exploitation is that the Arctic is especially vulnerable to the climate change they will help cause. Already, warming there is roughly twice what we have in Europe and this will continue. It’s still one of the largest remaining ecologically intact regions on Earth, home to indigenous people and a unique and diverse ecosystem. Yet changes are already starting to show – from polar bears stranded on fragments of ice floes to ships starting to use the northerly channels across the top of the world.
So, we believe the UK should apply a clear set of principles in its dealings with the Arctic, to help protect the region from the ongoing effects of climate change, and ensure that its natural wealth is not exploited at the expense of its people, environmental security, ecosystems or wildlife. And some of that wildlife of course we also see here – many birds that breed in the Arctic spend their winter in the UK or use the UK as a stopover on longer migrations.
Remote, wild, and intimately connected with us. Of course we are beholden to protect the Arctic.