Could the Paris Summit mark the point at which tackling climate change gets tough?

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Andrew Warren argues that up until now the UK government has had it easy when it comes to curbing emissions - but that could be about to change

The Paris Conference will be the first time since the COP series began that any UK government will have had to seriously face the reality of the intervention levels required, to deal with the threat of climate change means.

For the past 25 years all UK governments have been able to strut their stuff, confident that our record in cutting back on greenhouse gases since the traditional base year of 1990 has been far better than most. But what if the base year had been just five years later? Because it was during the first part of the 1990s that the great bulk of British coalmines shut. And as a result of that first Dash for Gas, the carbon content of our electricity was completely transformed.

To be frank, unless you are an ex-employee of the National Coal Board, chances are you and your family haven't had to adjust your lifestyles at all, even whilst our nation's emissions tumbled. These easy early successes lulled the entire British political establishment into a bland confidence that confronting the threat of climate change was practically pain-free, enabling the House of Commons to vote so overwhelmingly for the Climate Change Act in 2008.

But even allowing for Amber Rudd's grand gesture of announcing the future demise of the rest of coal-fired electricity, in fact the amount of carbon emitted from coal-based electricity has continued falling during this century, largely due to declines in the amount of power consumed as machinery becomes more efficient.

From now on Britain won't have such an easy way to meet its carbon commitments, especially during the next decade. If the agreed carbon budgets are to be met, it will require far more interventionist measures regulating our behaviour and intervening in our lifestyles than have yet been countenanced.

Continuing to duck away from requirements like "consequential improvements" (when you expand your building's size, you must improve the energy performance of the original construction too); or penalizing in tax terms those who sell or let out energy inefficient buildings, will simply no longer suffice. At least, not if UK politicians want to be able to continue to pose as world leaders at future climate summits.

Andrew Warren is honorary president of the Association for the Conservation of Energy

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC.

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