UK-based International development agency Christian Aid has accused the government of ‘eviscerating’ the Climate Change Bill by failing to include within it a number of measures crucial to the fight against global warming.
The NGO said it was deeply disappointed at the government’s refusal, revealed by Phil Woolas MP, Minister of State for the Environment at the start of the bill’s second reading in Parliament recently, to include a target for cutting UK carbon emissions of 80% over 1990 levels by 2050.
The churches' agency said the removal from the bill of an undertaking to ensure that UK emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed the level necessary to limit global temperature rises to not more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels would fatally undermine the credibility of the UK’s climate change policies.
It also roundly condemned the dropping of amendment agreed in the House of Lords that would have made it mandatory for publicly listed companies in Britain to declare their annual carbon emissions.
Another disappointment was the failure of the bill to ensure that at least 70% of its targets had to be met through emission cuts within the UK, rather than by purchasing carbon off-sets from poorer countries.
Sarah Spinney, Christian Aid’s climate change campaigns manager, explained: "The government has eviscerated a piece of legislation that should have seen Britain blazing a trail internationally over combating climate change."
She added: "It is the first such piece of legislation anywhere in the world, and expectations were high. Instead, the government has apparently lost its nerve. Its entire commitment to tackling climate change is now open to question."
"Instead of the UK setting an example of the measures needed to combat global warming, the lofty sentiments uttered by government ministers in recent months have apparently been just empty words. The campaign for a bill with real teeth will continue."
"Only carbon emission cuts of 80% and above will keep global temperatures below 2°C. That target is essential as beyond 2°C the effects of climate change such as drought, floods and disease will become rampant."
The amendment on mandatory reporting, tabled by the Liberal Democrats and Labour backbench peers, followed pressure from a coalition of MPs, businesses and non-governmental organisations led by Christian Aid. UK businesses fund up to 15% of carbon emissions around the world.
Under the Companies Act, large UK companies have a responsibility to provide a business review with their annual reports. Quoted companies should include information on the social and environmental implications of their work. The amount of information given, however, is left to the company directors’ discretion.
The amendment required any company that is required to produce a business review to make a statement about their green house gas (GHG) emissions. It also introduced enabling powers to give the Secretary of State power to issue mandatory guidance on GHG reporting.
Most listed companies at present do divulge some information about emissions, but the information is often provided in such a way as to make a true assessment of their activities impossible.
At a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference last year, 82% of delegates voted in favour of mandatory standards on carbon emission reporting. In addition, the CBI Climate Change task force report calls for mandatory standards to be introduced in the short term.
Christian Aid’s concern over carbon off-setting is based on its view that countries such as the UK, where major industrial CO2 emissions first began, must help finance clean development in poorer countries on top of their cuts at home, not instead.