Thursday, 6 August 2009

Climate change Thursday #3

This week's climate change Thursday is a tale of two governments. The first is the British government that, as we saw last week, has got its act together in relative- though not absolute- terms.

However, it appears that the public sector itself is not setting a good example. According the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, recycling in the public sector has declined in 2006-07 to 2007-08 from 38.5 per cent to 35 per cent and the use of renewable energy has declined from 28.3 per cent to 22 per cent over the same period. The problem with this is not just its impact on emissions which is the primary concern but also that it will cost the government cash.

Under the Carbon Reduction Commitment, public sector organisations and local authorities will have to buy carbon credits from the private sector- costing us all money and, as it is a market-based solution, there is no way forecasting what that cost could be. Moreover, what sort of example does it set?

There is further information available about the scheme here if you are interested.

The other government under the microscope this week is the US. Under the Obama administration they appear to be getting on the case. The stimulus and investment package passed included significant investment in renewable energy, retro-fitting of public buildings, and the creation of a more efficient grid. The administration's budget did the same thing. However, it is starting from a very low base.

In an interview with the New Scientist, John Holdren, President Obama's scientific advisor, said:
"Two things are obvious: the industrialised nations have an obligation to lead, and the developing countries have to join pretty soon, or we're going to be cooked."
It is unsurprising that the US is beginning to stir on climate change given the catastrophic consequences it faces if the world fails to act. The only mystery is what took it so long. Just take the agricultural oasis of California as a case in point. A while ago, Energy Secretary, Nobel prize-winning, Steven Chu, said:
“We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California. I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”
Now, to have any chance of a comprehensive climate deal at Copenhagen, the Waxman-Markey bill- which introduces a US cap and trade system much like the EU's Emissions Trading System and sets targets for renewable energy- must pass the Senate following its successful navigation of the House of Representatives on June 26th.

There are fears that with healthcare sucking out all of the legislative energy from Congress that the bill could be punted into next year. That would be a disaster for Copenhagen unless a clear direction of travel had been established. Without the bill, what chance that China, Russia, and India, will commit to a substantive deal at Copenhagen?

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