June 19, 2024

Britain Set to Announce Ambitious Environmental Steps

Chris Huhne, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, is expected to release a statement on Tuesday that the British government will set in law a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions about 50 percent by 2025.

That reduction, based on 1990 levels, would be far deeper than the European Union’s goal of cutting emissions 20 percent by 2020, and it would mean that Britain would make faster emissions cuts than other similar size countries, including Germany. The goal could require households to spend on new energy-saving devices for the home. It could also revive stalled government support for large projects, like those that capture power from tides and that bury carbon dioxide emissions.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change declined to comment before a formal announcement.

Governments in Britain and North America have broadly retreated from far-reaching pledges since the financial crisis began two years ago.

Since then, many leaders have seen sharply reduced public spending as incompatible with wholesale changes to their countries’ energy production and consumption.

That makes the pending decision in Britain, where the government is making the deepest spending cuts in decades to trim its debt load, all the more remarkable.

The expected decision has already lifted optimism among scientists and policy makers that fighting climate change remains viable even as economies continue to show, at best, feeble growth.

“This is an outstanding example of the kind of action by developed-world countries that’s needed to bring climate change under control,” said Bert Metz, an adviser to the European Climate Foundation, a group in Brussels that advocates lower emissions, and a former member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It’s also really going to push the British economy in the direction of growth.”

Some British ministers had been wary of putting too much strain on households and companies that were already facing painful austerity measures. Manufacturers warned over the weekend that the measures would damage competitiveness and growth.

Environmental groups broadly welcomed the decision but had some reservations.

Jason Anderson, the head of European climate and energy policy at WWF, the conservation group, said that the British government appeared to have resisted making greater near-term emissions reductions, at least until other European Union countries also made such cuts. Mr. Anderson said that pursuing deeper near-term cuts would have sent a more powerful signal to the European Union about acting early, while helping ensure Britain could successfully reach the goal for 2025.

A primary reason the government is moving ahead with ambitious goals even in troubled economic times is the Climate Change Act, which took effect in 2008. The act requires Britain to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 and requires a series of interim goals.

Britain is also moving ahead because an independent advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, already made recommendations on how the country can best achieve its targets under the act. The recommendations were hard to ignore for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has pledged that his government would be the “greenest ever.”

Even so, the government had chosen a goal that the Committee on Climate Change described as the minimum necessary to stay on track to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050, Mr. Anderson said.

The proposed move also shows a commitment by Britain to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on financial services after the economic crisis, and to develop a new focus on manufacturing in sectors — like wind and power grids — that show increasing promise.

“The current mood among many people in the U.K. government is, don’t get left behind in the race to develop new industries,” said Tom Burke, a founding director of E3G, an environmental consulting firm, and a visiting professor at Imperial College London.

Several big questions about the pledge remain, including how much of the cuts will come from refreshing Britain’s fleet of nuclear reactors, and how much will come from burning more natural gas and capturing some of those emissions before they reach the atmosphere.

Mr. Burke said he expected the government to continue its push for nuclear power as part of a low-carbon energy mix despite the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which knocked out reactors and led to radioactive leaks.

But Mr. Burke said that over time, natural gas would probably be a better optiwon than investing in reactors with their long history of delays, cost overruns and waste disposal problems.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/business/global/17carbon.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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