Letter to UK Government on Climate Change Programme

Letter to Margaret Beckett (Environment Minister) re: Consultation on the Review of the UK Climate Change Programme, 1 March 2005

Dear Mrs Beckett

Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility (AESR) and Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) are organisations of professionals working to ensure that science and technology are used for the benefit of humankind and to maintain an environment in which life can continue to flourish. We are responding jointly to the government consultation on the review of the UK climate change programme.

Our detailed response to the specific questions and points in the consultation document is being sent to the appropriate office in DEFRA, but we wish to make you aware of our views on the vital importance of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.

The recent assessments of likely climate change showing the probable outcomes to be more severe than earlier predictions highlight the need for urgent action. However well the UK responds to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this will be ineffective unless all the countries that are major sources of greenhouse gases are involved. In order to bring the USA into a meaningful framework within the UNFCCC, the UK and EU should by their actions show that significant reductions in emissions can be achieved while maintaining a good quality of life. This should help to counter the arguments put forward in the USA that signing up to the Kyoto Protocol would damage their economy and employment. If the UK position is to be taken seriously, it is important that we meet the relatively modest commitments made in the Kyoto treaty and our extra commitment on CO2 reduction. Also, it is essential in the negotiations within the UNFCCC for the post-2012 Kyoto timeframe due to start this year to set up a framework setting emissions quotas that is both effective and fair between countries at different stages of development.

In order to bring countries like China and India with their rapidly developing economies into such a framework (which is essential also to overcome the US objection to an agreement which does not include such countries), we believe that the principal of Contraction and Convergence, originated by the Global Commons Institute and supported in a number of countries, by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and by many Church organisations, has the prospect of providing a good basis for negotiation. As you will be aware, this concept proposes a progressive move to sharing out of the 'right' to emit greenhouse gases between nations in relation to the size of their population rather than the size of their economies (convergence), within a global total of greenhouse gas emissions that is within the atmosphere's carrying capacity (contraction). Within this framework, emissions trading would be allowed. Industrially developed countries would be permitted to 'purchase' unused emissions quotas from less developed countries, thus both aiding their environmentally friendly development and introducing an incentive to the more industrialised countries to reduce their emissions over time. We believe this concept has the best chance of gaining acceptance by countries at all different stages of development.

Links with states and organisations in the USA which support action on climate change should be fostered, with the aim of drawing the US administration to agree to an international framework within the UNFCCC. However, if the US administration refuses to take action within a reasonable framework agreed by virtually all other countries, it should be made clear that under WTO rules, it would be open to countries, if they believe the USA has a trade advantage by ignoring such agreement, to impose economic sanctions, for example, by tariffs on goods with high embodies energy. Further, countries which are damaged by climate change effects could, under international law, reasonably claim damages from major polluters who remain outside international agreements. This possibility should be brought to the attention of the USA if it is not possible to gain their voluntary accession to an international agreement on reducing emissions.

The consultation document covers a number of technological, economic and institutional means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While technology can enable significant reductions in emissions, we believe it will also be necessary to make some lifestyle changes. While many areas of the economy will be able to grow, unrestrained growth in transport, particularly road and air travel, are incompatible with meeting the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The public will need to be made aware of these considerations. In the consultation document, virtually nothing is said about raising public awareness of the significance of climate change. It is important that this be addressed, particularly in view of the well funded lobby trying to cast doubt on the predictions of the majority of the world's independent scientists. Clear, unbiased advice on what are the most effective measures individuals can take to reduce their emissions is needed. Communication should be a significant strand of the climate change programme. Thus we welcome the beginning of the development of a climate change communications strategy within the government. However, any communication strategy needs to be based on fully consistent policies, and this is not always the case, for example, policies on airport expansions or proposed developments requiring more road transport.

There is a general need to make further, larger expansions in funding for research, development and demonstration of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to order to help speed up progress in this area. There is also a need to ensure an adequate skills supply to these growing industries. One possible way of increasing finance is to redirect some of the very high levels of public funding currently directed to military R&D (currently in the region of £2.5 billion per annum) to sustainable energy areas. This would lead to a redirection of scientific and technical personnel (currently in short supply in the UK) to helping to tackle climate change. From a security perspective this would makes sense, both reducing the UK's dependence on imported fuels and reducing factors which can fuel international instability and conflict, for example the creation of environmental refugees because of increased flooding, loss of freshwater supplies and productive land.

We hope to see the UK taking a strong lead in the G8 summit and during our presidency of the EU, and the review of the UK's climate change programme should be aimed at strengthening our ability to do this.

Yours Sincerely

Martin Quick
Vice Chair
Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility (AESR)

Stuart Parkinson
Executive Director
Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)

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