In parliament: Party pact on climate change
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The news that the leaders of the three largest parliamentary parties have signed a joint statement on climate change is not just significant in terms of the forthcoming general election but well beyond.
It provides a badly needed signal that there will be no rowing back on action on climate change, whatever the long-term composition of government is, and that the broad framework for what needs doing is accepted and supported across party lines. Some of the smaller print in the declaration underlines this, notably that the leaders commit to agree future carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act 2008.
The inter-party pact is the good news. The slightly less good news is that a gap remains between what they’ve sign up to in principle and how the practice of observing it plays out. The five-year carbon budgets offer some room for policy manoeuvre. As to action on climate change, the 2008 Act clearly intended that the Committee on Climate Change would be closely respected in terms of its judgments on what policymakers can and cannot do. Ideally, if a specific government policy had a high carbon cost, it would need to mitigate its effect by tightening constraints elsewhere.
That is where the really hard choices over the next few years will be disputed and we are already beginning to see this happen. Gas is less CO2 intensive than coal but if it’s deployed at scale over the next 20 years it’s likely to bust any serious carbon budget. And can the UK live with the assumption that delaying energy efficiency measures to save a huge amount of emissions can really be recouped later when the saving needed will be far steeper and over a shorter period?
Nonetheless, the pact is a good and solid step forward. The world is a little better with the agreement than without it. Now we’ve got to make it work over the next 10 years.
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