The government's draft bill on climate change has faced criticism for the second time this week after the Joint Committee of MP's and Lords assessing the draft legislation concluded that it should be strengthened to increase government accountability, incorporate annual carbon reduction milestones and include emissions from aviation under the legislation.
The report comes just days after the Environmental Audit Committee branded the bill as "incoherent" and urged the government to set more stringent targets. That in turn followed a report in June from the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee, which also called for a strengthening of the new law.
The latest assessment again praised the proposed legislation as an innovative bill that will hopefully "provide a framework for other countries to commit themselves to substantial reductions in carbon emissions". But that did not stop the cross-party committee calling for a significant strengthening of the new bill.
Like the previous two reports the Joint Committee raises fears that the goal of cutting carbon emissions by 60 percent based on 1990 levels is insufficient to alleviate catastrophic global warming and criticises the failure to include other greenhouse gases in the legislation. As a result it recommends that all greenhouse gases should be monitored and insists that "there should be no mechanism for lowering this target and it should be possible to increase it by either a super-affirmative order or an amendable affirmative statutory instrument".
The report also voices concerns over the legal enforceability of the bill and the extent to which governments will be held to account for a failure to hit emission reduction targets. In contradiction to the government's plans the report proposes a series of annual rather than five yearly milestones and also calls for a stronger legal framework that would place the burden of legal responsibility on the Prime Minister as opposed to the Secretary of State.
Criticism from environmentalists about the government's refusal to include emissions from aviation and shipping in the new law is also endorsed with the report stating that the failure to include aviation represents a "serious weakness which, in view of the significant likely growth of such emissions, has the effect of reducing the credibility of the 60 percent carbon reduction target".
Further recommendations include calls to bolster the strength, credibility and funding of the independent Committee on Climate Change the government proposes to set up to police the legislation, and proposals for a greater focus on education and adaptation measures, particularly at a local level.
In fact, the sheer scale of different recommendations pretty much butchers the original draft and despite the report's assertions that it sees the bill as "an extremely encouraging sign" it is blatantly clear that the committee regards the proposed version as far, far too weak.
The reason three separate cross-party committees have reached pretty much the same conclusion is because there is no alternative conclusion logically available. The emission reduction targets are based on political expediency rather than up to date climate science and without real teeth the legislation is little more than a well-intentioned exercise in pointlessness.
Major amendments are required to deliver a climate change bill that will genuinely deliver consistent large scale carbon emission reductions and as such these three reports on the draft bill represent the first real test of Prime Minister Brown's green credentials.
Stick to the bulk of original legislation and refuse to strengthen the targets and enforcement mechanisms and we'll know that the government's climate change policy will continue to have little impact and play a minimal role in the transition to a low carbon economy. Follow the various recommendations and suddenly the UK really will be leading the world in the fight against climate change and we will expect to see a whole raft of new laws, taxes and subsidies to prove it.
Over to you Gordon.
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