11 May 2011

UK Coalition Carbon Row

An interesting debate is taking place among the coalition partners leading the UK government over carbon targets.  The Guardian provides some details:
The business secretary, Vince Cable, has clashed with his Lib Dem cabinet colleague Chris Huhne by telling him he will not support carbon reduction targets recommended by the government's independent climate change advisory body.

David Cameron will decide next week whether to accept the proposals by the Committee on Climate Change for a fourth carbon budget, covering the years 2023 to 2027, championed by Huhne, the energy secretary.

Three carbon budgets were set in 2008 but now the UK must agree a fourth as the government attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.

In a letter leaked to the Guardian, Cable tells his party's leader, Nick Clegg, and the chancellor, George Osborne, that he is "unable to give clearance to the proposal as it stands" and calls for an urgent cabinet meeting. In his letter, dated 19 April, Cable says the proposed carbon budget is not "cost effective" and asks for a Treasury impact analysis to be made available to all involved in the decision.

He writes: "Agreeing too aggressive a level risks burdening the UK economy, which would be detrimental to UK, undermining the UK's competitiveness and our attractiveness as a place to do business.
The April 19 letter being referred to can be found via the FT Westminster blog here in PDF.  The letter is in response to an April 5 letter from Chris Huhne, which discusses the commitment periods up to 2023.  It is all but certain that the UK won't hit those targets unless it adopts some very clever accounting and arithmetic.  Such cleverness is hinted at by the FT in its discussion of the April 5 Huhne letter (is it in the public domain?):
Interestingly, the letter also implies that Chris Huhne himself did not want to implement the entire CCC report. For example, the energy secretary seems to have rejected the idea that the second and third carbon budgets should be adjusted upwards. There is also a hint that he will not accept their idea of including aviation and shipping in the carbon targets.
Including aviation and shipping would of course make it far more difficult to pretend to be meeting the targets.

What will Cameron do?  I can't imagine he'd do anything other than commit to the targets proposed by the Climate Change Committee for 2030.  He'll be long gone by then.  They more important questions of course are about how the UK finagles the shorter term issues.