Decarbonisation is important, but at what cost? (Part 1)

11th Sep 2017


Let me state (again for the record) that climate change is real, it will have huge consequences across the globe and that the least well-off are the ones most likely to suffer most.

I am passionate about tackling climate change for that reason. The challenge I offer up though, is are we reducing carbon emissions in the most economically rational way?

To examine the question further, I went back in time to the debate around the Climate Change Bill (before it became law) to see what nuggets I could glean. When the Bill was first published, it set out to create a legally binding target of carbon emission reduction of at least 26 per cent by 2020 and 60 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

But did you know that the UK Climate Change Programme has been ongoing since 1994? The John Major Government (remember him?) set a target to return to 1990 emission levels by 2000. How easy it must have sounded then.

In 2000, the Royal Commission on Environment Pollution highlighted the need to set a long-term target of at least 60 per cent by 2050. Whilst there may have been some action, the truth is little changed in overall UK carbon emissions.

In 2005 “The Big Ask” campaign fronted by a number of NGOs started to campaign for tougher targets. The suggestion was for an annual reduction of 3 per cent. In 2006, the then leader of the Opposition, David Cameron (remember him?), called for both annual targets of 3 per cent and overall reductions of 60 per cent (that was in his hug-a-huskie days).

So in 2007 the draft Climate Change Bill was introduced. By this time the new PM, Gordon Brown (remember him?) had taken over and announced the commitment to at least a 60 per cent reduction, but asked the Committee on Climate Change to investigate the emerging evidence that the reduction needs to be 80 per cent to avoid the worst aspect of global warming. The rest is history.

Next week, I’ll look at an aspect of the legislation that hasn’t received much attention to date but could be interesting in finding the least cost option.


Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE