Analysis

First of the line

The 1990 White Paper on the environment did not receive rave reviews from environmentalists. On the energy front, one of their main criticisms was that the various initiatives on energy efficiency and the renewables were at no point gathered together to show what contribution the Government expected them to make towards its then goal of stabilising CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2005. A report submitted to the EC in May which outlines the UK's strategy on CO2 does a little better. But it will not be an adequate model for what will be needed once the Convention on Climate Change is in force, or indeed when a forthcoming EC Decision in the same area is adopted (see pp 33-35). The report was prepared following an agreement by EC countries last December. To date, only the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are believed to have submitted similar reports to Brussels. The reports are intended to enable the Commission to make an initial evaluation of what 12 national programmes will contribute to the agreed target of stabilising the EC's emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. The UK's submission notes that the latest official projections of CO2 emissions for 2000 fall in the range 157-179 million tonnes (as carbon). 1990 emissions totalled 160 million tonnes. The new figures are lower than the previous projections, which fell in the range 174-206 million tonnes. They were first released last December (ENDS Report 203, p 20), but the detailed assumptions underlying them have still not been made available for public scrutiny. The report goes on to say that extra measures already agreed are expected to reduce emissions below the new projections by 3-5 million tonnes by 2000. They include the new Energy Savings Trust announced in May under which British Gas and the regional electricity companies will promote additional energy efficiency programmes, a voluntary energy labelling programme for refrigerators and freezers, an official campaign to promote voluntary action by business on energy efficiency, and a target adopted by English local authorities to reduce their energy consumption by 15% over five years. On the transport front, the report notes that the new emissions check introduced in the annual MOT test for cars and the fitting of speed limiters on heavy lorries will bring another 1 million tonnes of savings which were incorporated in the revised projections. But a further 2 million tonnes - about 7% of current CO2 emissions from road transport - potentially available from a shift to more fuel-efficient cars were apparently not included because the necessary "strong fiscal and/or regulatory signals" are not yet in place. The report devotes over a page to waste management with- out coming close to saying what cuts in CO2 emissions may be achieved by action in this sector. It closes with what appears to be the first published official estimate of CO2 removal from the air by new afforestation, "set-aside" of agricultural land and the impending ban on straw burning. Together, these are projected to remove about 0.35 million tonnes of carbon per year in 2000 or shortly thereafter, on top of the 4 million tonnes removed by existing woods. The latter figure is equivalent to 2.5% of the UK's current emissions. The report is a first step on the road to full quantification, but it falls well short of providing figures consistently across the board. There is also no sectoral breakdown of current or projected emissions, which will be a requirement under the new Convention. Remarkably, the report says not a word about the massive shift to gas now under way in the power generation sector, although there are strong grounds for suspecting that this could provide the UK with a painless path to stabilising its CO2 emissions. The obligation to publish detailed reports should bring questions such as this fully into the public domain, and will help to ensure that the goal of "equitable effort" by countries in limiting their CO2 emissions which features in both the Convention and EC policy becomes a reality.

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