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Britain aims to take lead on aggressive carbon cuts

November 15, 2006 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Policy experts call for measures to go even further.

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Climate policy experts have cautiously welcomed the British government's newly announced plan to make drastic cuts to the country's greenhouse-gas emissions over the next half-century.

Under the plan, announced by the Queen at today's official opening of the new parliamentary session, emissions of carbon dioxide will be slashed by 60% by 2050.

But members of the opposing Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties say they are hoping to beef up the measures even more, in a bid to maintain Britain's status as a champion of the fight against climate change.

The plan, formulated by Britain's Labour government, will involve the creation of an independent 'carbon committee' to monitor progress towards the 60% cut relative to 1990 levels. It will impose five-year targets to meet this aim although environmental advocates and opposition politicians have called for yearly emissions-reduction targets.

"There is now overwhelming support for new legislation to cut UK carbon dioxide emissions by at least 3% every year," says Tony Juniper, director of environmental organization Friends of the Earth. "We hope that ministers will seize the opportunity and make the UK a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy."

Global emissions are currently rising by just over 3% a year. Britain contributes just 2% of the planet's carbon dioxide emissions, so other countries will have to follow suit if global reductions are to be achieved.

Big ambitions

It is not yet clear exactly how the ambitious target will be met. The planned cuts go way beyond those demanded by the Kyoto protocol.

"A combination of measures will be required, including energy efficiency, emissions trading, CO2 capture and the faster deployment of non-fossil-fuel technologies, including nuclear power," predicts Andrew Furlong, policy director of the UK Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Environment secretary David Miliband has also proposed extending the current emissions-trading scheme to include businesses such as hotels and supermarkets, as well as the power companies and industrial installations currently involved in the scheme. But the government appears divided on whether to do this.

High flyers

Another area that may be forced to limit its greenhouse gas emissions in the future is the aviation industry, which has long fallen between the cracks of emissions regulations. This week the European Commission announced that it intends to impose limits on greenhouse emissions from commercial aviation starting in 2011.

According to a draft of a proposed law released yesterday, all airlines using European airports will be subject to limits on the amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. Companies are expected to be allowed to buy and sell the right to exceed these limits, in the same way that other industries currently trade on the emissions market.

The move marks the first step towards the inclusion of the aviation industry in the global carbon market. But it threatens to drive a wedge between European policymakers and international airlines landing in European airports. Those based in the United States, for example, are unlikely to welcome outside regulation of their activities. The proposal "could lead to retaliation by non-EU countries", said Abigail Moore, a spokeswoman for British Airways.

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