Carbon targets ‘dangerously optimistic’

24.6.2009   (Guardian – environment)

by Felicity Carus 


A leading UK climate scientist yesterday warned MPs that the government’s ­climate change policies are “dangerously optimistic”.

Professor Kevin Anderson, the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change
Research, said the government’s planned carbon cuts – if followed internationally
– would have a “50-50 chance” of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2C.
This is the threshold that the EU defines as leading to dangerous climate change.

Anderson also said that the two government departments most directly involved
with climate change policy were like “small dogs yapping at the heels” of more
powerful departments, such as that run by the business secretary, Lord Mandelson.

He said that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), run by Ed ­Miliband,
should be given more power.

Anderson was speaking to MPs on the environmental audit committee as part of
an inquiry into the UK’s carbon budgets.   These are legally binding caps on emissions
set over five years by the ­Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the independent
body set up to advise the government on how big the cuts should be.    

 In April the CCC’s proposed cut of 34% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels was adopted
by the chancellor in his budget, making Britain the first country in the world
to pursue legally binding emissions reductions.

The CCC hopes that the government will adopt a higher intended budget (a 42%
reduction in emissions by 2020) within the next two years, once a global deal
on climate change has been agreed.   But Anderson said that the UK should show
leadership before the Copenhagen summit and raise the target to 40% now.

The top scientist’s criticism will come as an unwelcome distraction to Decc ahead
of the release of its “road to ­Copenhagen” strategy document on Friday.  This will lay out what the government hopes to achieve at the UN climate negotiations
in Copenhagen in December.

But Anderson said that without more ambitious action he feared that a significant
deal at Copenhagen would not be achieved.

“No one I talk to thinks there is going to be anything significant to come out
of Copenhagen,” he said.

“We are going to come out and recover the deckchairs in preparation for moving
them as the Titanic sinks.   We’re not even at the stage of rearranging them,”
he added.

He criticised CCC’s carbon budget because it failed to adequately factor in emissions
from food, deforestation, aviation and shipping and the manufacture of goods for
the west.

Anderson said a commitment to a 40% cut by 2020 would help to press other countries
into a stronger deal on a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

Anderson praised politicians for ­taking on the science of climate change, but
accused them of letting policy be driven by political expediency rather than science.

A spokesperson for Decc said: “The UK will be pushing for the most ­ambitious
deal possible at Copenhagen.

“We’ve already said that we’ll look again at tightening our carbon budgets once
an international agreement has been achieved.”