The Government are, as a rule, fond of gestures of commitment. The Environment Secretary Ed Miliband has committed the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 % by 2050. Setting ambitious targets such as this indicate that they [the Government] take issues seriously, and act as a sign to other countries that Britain is leading progress.
However, we have seen a lack of realisation in many areas regarding ambitious targets. While the most potent examples have been regarding climate change, there are some notable others.
The strategy to eradicate child poverty had the deadline set as 2010. At the halfway review, however, they were well down of the required progress target, and all discussion of this area seems to have gone rather quiet as the deadline approaches.
The recent target, to cut emissions by 80 % on 1990 levels, is an increase from the previous target of 60 % and is therefore wildly optimistic. Miliband has justified this by saying that it reflects the urgency of the threat posed by climate change, given that the effects are happening faster than predicted.
But won’t it be a bit demoralising when we don’t reach this target? Never mind; it is still forty odd years away.
John Vidal, the Environment Editor of the Guardian, said “In the last ten years we have not managed to reduce our emissions at all – in fact, they’re still going up.”
There are several other factors to take into consideration.
Emissions from the international aviation industry were not included in the carbon budgets because it is difficult to assign responsibility to particular countries. These undoubtedly make a significant contribution to emissions.
The new coal-fired power stations and airport expansions will have an adverse effect on our progress towards this goal, and it is also important to remember that we are going through tough economic times at present.
Miliband acknowledged that in practice it will be tough to “meet the milestones that show we’re on track”, but said that the environment and the economy need not necessarily be at odds. The “transition economy” will allow the creation of new green jobs. This, he proposes, is what we need to do to allay fears of mass unemployment due to the economic crisis. Switching to renewable fuels and major changes in individuals’ behaviour would drive this low-carbon economy.
The problem with delaying dealing with climate change, it is argued, is that it would get cumulatively worse; the cost to future generations is an important moral issue.
Climate change is an emotive subject. The 80% cut will require determined action, but let us hope that rather than provoking hysteria or pessimism, it will make us consider much more carefully the way we live and put the knowledge that we have gained from scientific advice into practice to reduce the damaging effects of global warming.