British Government Makes Climate Change Laws That Can Never Be Challenged Or Rescinded
London Telegraph | March 13, 2007
Charles Clover and Toby Helm
Environmental groups will be able to take future Governments to court if they fail to live up to this one's promise to cut Britain's carbon emissions, under a Climate Change Bill published today.
David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, said that his draft Bill would "tie the hands of future governments" by requiring them to cut carbon emissions by at least 26 per cent by 2020 and 60 per cent by 2050.
This would happen, he said, by a variety of means: an energy efficiency campaign in the home, tighter efficiency standards for lightbulbs, and tighter EU standards for new cars.
The draft Bill, the first of its kind in any country, sets up a new system of legally-binding five-year "carbon budgets" to give businesses certainty and give them time to invest in low carbon technology. These budgets would be set 15 years ahead, to give business certainty.
Tony Blair said today that tackling climate change was as great a challenge for this generation as the battle to defeat fascism and Communism had been for the last.
"People that have been in Downing Street over the years have faced issues to do with the Cold War, the Depression and the rise of fascism," the Prime Minister told an audience of students at Number Ten.
"Climate change is a bit of a different type of challenge but a challenge I believe is the biggest long-term threat facing our world."
Mr Miliband said the Bill represented a "radical consensus" between Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats and represented a legal pathway to a low carbon economy. "I honestly believe other countries will want to follow this," he added.
A new independent carbon committee, expected to be appointed this year, will advise on what the five-year carbon budgets should be and report on progress at the end of the five years.
If progress is not being achieved in cutting emissions, environmental groups would be able to take the government to judicial review in the High Court. If it was found wanting, the Government could then have to buy more carbon credits on the European market.
Mr Miliband said that industry would not be entitled to take the Government to court if it thought the emissions reductions had gone too far.
At present, the Bill's legal requirements do not apply to international flights or shipping but Mr Miliband said that if international agreement could be reached on calculating these and allocating responsibility, there was provision for them to be included.
Likewise, there was scope for extending the Bill to cover other greenhouse gases, such as methane, as well as carbon dioxide.
The Bill introduces enabling powers that would allow the Government to introduce new trading schemes for greenhouse gases if this was needed to stay within its targets.
The Bill will be introduced to Parliament in the autumn and is expected to become law in spring next year. The carbon committee would then set the carbon budget for the next five years – meaning that the legal process the Bill contains would be unlikely to affect this government.
Officials say the head of the new carbon committee will be someone who can command respect from both industry and environmentalists.
One of the potential appointees being talked about in Whitehall is the former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Lord Turner, formerly Adair Turner.
Environment groups, charities and opposition parties said the Bill was a step forward but called on ministers to go even further.
Christian Aid's senior climate policy officer, Andrew Pendleton, acknowledged that the UK was the first country to bring forward a legal framework for a transition to a low-carbon economy.
He said: "Mr Miliband is to be congratulated for publishing the bill and he is right to be proud of it - he and the Government are an example to the rest of the G8.
"But if the final legislation is not significantly stronger, the process would represent a massive lost opportunity. It is the first step on a long journey rather than the destination itself."