So, is the Government doing enough about climate change? In May, a National Opinion Poll (NOP) survey commissioned by Friends of the Earth found that of the 1,000 British people polled, 73 per cent did not think that the Government is doing enough to address climate change and 55 per cent thought that the Government should be taking the lead on the issue (compared to 26 per cent who said it was up to individuals, and 13 per cent who said business should be leading action on climate change).
So much for the opinions, but what about the facts? The latest figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in May reveal that, although total UK greenhouse gas emissions declined 8.1 per cent from 786.3 million to 722.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 1990 and 2003, emissions in 2003 rose 1.6 per cent on the previous year, primarily owing to higher emissions from the electricity generators, coal-fired power stations in particular. Despite Labour's promises to cut carbon dioxide levels by 20 per cent by 2010 (based on 1990 levels) and 60 per cent by 2050, the Government has admitted that its current Climate Change Strategy is inadequate for meeting its 2010 target. The strategy is currently under review, and an announcement is expected over the summer.
Backed with a resounding endorsement by Local Groups Conference 2004, the Big Ask will be FoE's priority for 2005. The campaign challenges the Government to bring in a new law, the Climate Change Bill, that would bring about a 3 per cent reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions every year. The Bill would also give Parliament new powers to sanction Government Ministers who fail to achieve their targets.
Three per cent doesn't sound like much, but Friends of the Earth's research suggests that cutting carbon dioxide emissions by this much year on year could easily put the UK back on track to meet its 60 per cent by 2050 emissions reduction target. Meeting these targets will be crucial if Britain is to live up to Prime Minister Tony Blair's promise to lead international action on climate change. Although Britain is produces only 2.3 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions (with 1 per cent of the world's population), we are ideally placed to show the rest of the world that sustained year on year emissions cuts are achievable – as a historic polluter it could be considered our duty.
Identifying the right policies, such as higher energy efficiency standards for new houses and the replacement of aging coal-fired power stations with state-of-the-art models, is the easy bit; mustering the political courage to enact them while fending off the aviation, nuclear, roads, motoring and fossil-fuel lobbies will be more challenging. To become law, the Bill must pass several stages in both the House of Commons and the Lords during a single, year-long Parliamentary session, after which it will change into an Act – the Climate Change Act. To get the Bill this far, time must be allocated for debates to take place in each House, and the procedural blocking tactics MPs can use to stop the Bill will need to be overcome.
Since it began in the UK in 1971, Friends of the Earth has helped get eight new laws onto the statute book, so there is hope but it will be up to all of us to persuade our MPs to support the Bill – and to keep supporting it – as it makes its way through Parliament and, with luck, into law.
The key to making the Climate Change Bill a success will be to ensure that the pressure on our Members of Parliament to support the Bill never lets up, and increases over until the time comes to MPs to vote on the Bill – 2007 at the earliest.
The first thing your MP can do is sign a House of Commons resolution, called Early Day Motion (EDM) 178, which supports the Bill. You can write to your MP at the House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA or email them from www.thebigask.com. You can find out if your MP has already signed at http://edmi.parliament.uk or http://edm.ais.co.uk. To date (7th June), the only Birmingham MP to have signed EDM 178 is Lynne Jones (Labour, Selly Oak). If you are a constituent of Selly Oak you may like to write to Lynne thanking her for making this public statement of support for the Bill.