Comment »Posted on Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 2:21 pm by Jacob Aron
In Climate Change & Environment, Getting It Wrong, Science Policy

[Whoops, I'm off schedule already. Apologies to those who were expecting a post on Monday, but another bout of illness over the weekend meant I had to take a few days off. And now, the news.]

On the path to a greener future, governments must lead the way. Without legislation that suitably incentives green behaviour, the necessary changes to our economy will not be possible. Carbon trading, if appropriately priced, seems like a good way to do this. Unfortunately, the UK Government seems to have missed the point of the scheme: reducing emissions.

A report published today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warns that the Government may not meet its own targets for emission cuts, and could have to use taxpayers money to purchase more carbon credits.

In 2006, then Prime Minister Tony Blair promised a 12.5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2010-11, relative to 1990/2000 levels. The EAC have criticised the Government for not doing enough to reduce energy use in its buildings, the largest source of emissions. So far, only a 6.3% reduction has been achieved.

Failure could come at a hefty price. Starting in April next year, around 5,000 organisations including Government departments, retailers and banks will have to buy carbon credits. Under the Carbon Reduction Commitment, these organisations will have to pay £12 for every tonne of carbon dioxide they produce.

All of this money is contributed to a central pot, and emissions are assessed on a yearly basis. Organisations that do well are given their money back, plus a bonus, whilst those that do poorly get back less than they put in. Effectively, inefficient organisations pay money to those which can reduce emissions the most.

This means that unless targets are met, the Government will be handing taxpayers money to private businesses to make up for its carbon excess. You could say this is how the scheme is meant to work – reward those who are greenest, and allow the stragglers to pay for their sins. A fair point – but shouldn’t we expect better?

If the Government are forced to purchase more carbon credits in this way, it sends out the completely wrong message to the country. We must learn that simply paying your way is not enough; at some point we must all make emission reductions.

What’s worse, this is a double cost to the taxpayer. In not reducing energy usage, the Government will have already paid more in utility bills than is necessary. Instead of investing in insulation or solar panels, it has thrown money away on a short-term “solution”. It’s not good enough. The short-term is running out.

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