MPs clear wide-sweeping changes to climate Bill

Last-minute amendments to the Climate Change Bill saw the government capitulate on including emissions from aviation and shipping. It also raised the carbon reduction target to 80% by 2050 and will now require mandatory reporting of emissions by all large and medium-size firms.

The Climate Change Bill will now cover greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and shipping after MPs forced through an amendment during a debate in the House of Commons in October. Another key amendment saw the carbon reduction target rise from 60% to 80% by 2050 against a 1990 baseline.

Labour MP for Edinburgh South Nigel Griffiths tabled an early day motion calling for aviation and shipping to be included in the Bill, which was signed by 103 MPs. Former environment minister Elliot Morley MP later tabled a late amendment for its inclusion. The government has previously resisted the inclusion of the sizeable and growing emissions from these sectors, arguing that their global nature called for an international agreement to allocate emissions between countries.

The issue was discussed for three of the five hours spent in debate. MPs eventually voted to include them, although the details of how this will done have yet to be decided. The new clauses mean that while aviation and shipping will not be included as part of the target, the government will have to take projected emissions from these sectors into account when setting carbon budgets or explain to Parliament why this has not been done.

This is in line with advice from the Government’s Committee on Climate Change. It said that if emissions from the UK’s eventually agreed share of international aviation and shipping emissions fail to reduce by 80% by 2050, other sectors will have to make cuts deeper than 80%. Alternatively aviation and shipping sectors "would have to purchase credits" (ENDS Report, 405, p 5 ).

Climate change minister Joan Ruddock said the government would investigate "all options" for reducing emissions from shipping, including improved technology and better operator practices. The government also supports a global emissions trading scheme through the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) or failing that, the EU, she said.

However, the IMO failed to reach an agreement on how emissions should be dealt with at its meeting in October (see p 50 ). As a result, it will be extremely difficult for an agreement on shipping to be reached in time for the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen next year.

The Bill was also strengthened after MPs voted to raise the carbon reduction target from 60% to 80% by 2050, in line with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change. A further amendment will see the target cover other key greenhouse gases - methane, nitrous oxide, hydroflurocarbons, perflurocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride, as well as carbon dioxide.

However, responsibility for meeting the target will belong to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. An amendment adopted at the start of the Bill’s passage through Parliament had shifted the duty to meet it to the Prime Minister (ENDS Report 401, pp 59-61 ) - this has now been overturned.

MPs also agreed to an amendment that will force all large and medium-sized companies to report on their carbon emissions in a standardised way. The government will consult on how emissions should be defined and measured next year, with guidance expected by October 2009. Regulations amending the Companies Act 2006 to require directors to disclose emissions data must be made by 6 April 2012.

A proposed clause to limit the maximum amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a power station per unit of energy produced was rejected by the government. It was put forward to prevent the construction of new coal-fired power stations without carbon capture technology.

The government claimed there was no guarantee that this would reduce UK emissions. Ms Ruddock also argued it may slow down or halt the development of carbon capture and storage technology and could jeopardise the security of the UK’s energy supply.

The Bill was voted through by a massive majority. Only three Tory MPs voted against - Hitchen and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley, Christchurch MP Christopher Chope and Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), which had campaigned for the Bill through its three-year "Big Ask" campaign, hailed the legislation’s advance as "a victory for people power in the fight against climate change". But it criticised the Bill for failing to restrict the extent to which the UK can use purchases of overseas emission reduction credits to meet its target. FoE fears the government will buy in large quantities of these credits rather than delivering reductions within UK borders.

The Bill is expected to gain Royal Assent next month. In December the Committee on Climate Change will publish its first report, recommending a UK carbon budget for the next five years and how the cuts in emissions should be made. The Government will respond in the Spring.

Seventeen other European countries are considering similar bills. The Scottish Government has recently published its response to its consultation on its own bill, although the one passing through Parliament covers all of the UK.1 It has pledged to set a mandatory target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Annual targets will be set. The Scottish Bill will propose an interim target to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030. It is expected to be published before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in Europe, MEPs have rubber stamped a deal made this summer to include aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme (EUETS) from 2012 (ENDS Report 402, p 51 ). The Environment Committee also asked the European Commission to submit as soon as possible legislative proposals to include the shipping sector in the EUETS by 2013.

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