UK "Carbon Budgets" Seen As Model For Others
Author: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO - The world can learn from a British plan for "carbon budgets" to fight climate change even though London often promises more than it delivers, a senior government adviser said.
Jonathon Porritt, who steps down as chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission on Monday, gave the Labour government a mixed report for achievements including cuts in greenhouse gases of 21 percent below 1990 levels by 2008.
He told Reuters that a success for Britain was that it was the first country in the world to set itself legally binding "carbon budgets" until 2020 as part of a national goal toward cutting emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Under the five-year budgets, each government ministry has responsibility for cuts in areas under its authority -- such as transport, power, homes, workplaces or defense.
"I have no doubt that other countries will look at that and say 'that's a really interesting way to get cross-government ownership'," Porritt said after nine years heading the government-appointed Commission.
"The hassle has always been that a government -- a prime minister or an environment minister -- can sign off on cuts. But unless you get the whole of the government behind it you can't deliver on climate change targets. It's impossible," he said.
But Porritt also said that the British government often exaggerated its role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions as part of a U.N.-led drive to limit more droughts, extinctions, floods, rising sea levels and heatwaves.
A shift from high-polluting coal to North Sea gas, largely independent of climate concerns, explained much of the 21 percent emissions cut since 1990.
"Different analyses I've seen over the years indicate that probably more than 70 percent of that achievement is down to moving out of coal and into gas," he said.
Porritt, an environmental campaigner who was also a founder of the Forum for the Future charity, said British governments had been good at "salvoes of climate rhetoric fired off into the ether" that rarely made it into policy.
Still, Porritt said that Britain had made progress compared to other nations by writing its climate goals into law. And Prime Minister Gordon Brown also benefited from cross-party support for combating global warming.
Porritt said that even former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a speech at the United Nations in 1988 warning about climate change. "In those days a lot of people didn't know what she was talking about," he said.
As the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, Britain feels to blame for emitting greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels longer than other nations.
Porritt said he expected the world would manage to agree some kind of U.N. pact to fight global warming in Copenhagen in December. But he predicted a lot of loose ends.
Porritt will stand down from July 27 and be succeeded by Will Day, who has worked with international aid organizations and the BBC.