Where the UK Leads…

It is quite possible the US Congress will follow, on environmental policy at least. The UK’s Treasury minister, Alistair Darling, has just announced a raft of new environmental polices. Below I’ve posted Mr. Darling’s statement followed by my immediate responses.

Mr Speaker, two of the great challenges for this generation are the need to tackle climate change and poverty across the world.Alongside the Pre-Budget Report, I am publishing the next stage of the implementation of the Stern review, setting out how Britain is meeting its environmental obligations.We are already the only country to have met our Kyoto obligations — reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by almost a fifth since 1990.Next month when the Climate Change Bill comes before the House, we will become the first country to introduce legislation on binding carbon budgets.

I am today increasing the budget for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to £4 billion in three years time to help us tackle climate change and protect the countryside. I confirm that includes provision of £800 million a year by 2010 for flood defences.

We now need to move further and faster on the next stage of the European Emissions Trading Scheme. As part of that we propose to significantly increasing the use of auctioning of carbon allowances, as we move further towards a low carbon future.

Mr Speaker, the single largest factor for improving energy efficiency in Britain has been the climate change levy — which, by 2010, will reduce demand for energy from business and government by 15 per cent.

I can confirm the levy will rise in line with inflation next April. As before, we will continue to return its revenue directly to business. And we will go further by extending the climate change agreements for ten years to 2017.

Building on reforms to relate company car tax to carbon emissions, I am uprating the fuel benefit charge to further strengthen the environmental incentive to drive fewer miles.

And in order to encourage business to generate their own clean electricity, we will exempt investment in microgeneration from any reassessment between rates’ revaluations.

To ensure Britain is at the cutting edge of the next generation of technology for low carbon electricity, we are today setting out the key criteria for the competition for Britain’s first full-scale carbon capture and storage project, that could cut emissions from coal power by 90 per cent.

Mr Speaker, I want to see European-wide agreement to a lower rate of VAT, in Britain of 5 per cent, for the most enegry efficient products. So with the French government, I am writing to the Commission and other European countries today, and asking them to support our proposal.

Today, I am also publishing the interim report by Professor Julia King, which shows by choosing the most efficient cars on the market today drivers can cut emissions and their fuel bills by up to quarter. With new technology and cleaner power we could cut carbon emissions from cars by up to 80 per cent. I will bring forward proposals at the Budget after Professor King’s final report, on ways to encourage the next generation of cleaner cars and incentives for people to buy them.

Mr Speaker, air travel accounts for a growing share of carbon emissions.

So it is right aircraft emissions should be part of the EU emissions trading scheme.

I also propose that aviation makes a greater contribution in respect of its environmental impact.

And for this to be as environmentally effective as possible, from 2009, I intend to levy the duty not on individual passengers but on flights, to encourager more efficient use of planes.

I can also announce a new Environmental Transformation Fund will have a three year budget of £1.2 billion, which will provide investment in new energy technologies here at home, and resources to meet our obligation to support poverty reduction in the poorest countries through environmental protection.

Here are my immediate responses:

* The claim that Britain is meeting its Kyoto obligations is silly. Kyoto doesn’t start till 2008, and emissions are rising. So what he’s saying is that at some point in the past we emitted less than required under Kyoto. Well, by that score, the US met its Kyoto obligations in 1980. The question is whether Britain will meet its Kyoto obligations between 2008 and 2012. That’s still a major challenge. Moreover, the other European nations mostly claim they’re meeting the obligations (same objections apply, of course). So he’s calling them liars.

* Auctioning permits under the emissions trading scheme would see utilities passing on these costs to their customers, resulting in a huge wealth transfer away from the individual to the “carbon cartel” and their brokers. This would hit the poorest hardest and is functionally equivalent to a tax on heating and lighting.

* Energy efficient products may be efficient with energy, but not with their primary purpose. For example, under new energy efficiency rules for washing machines over here, most new machines don’t actually get your clothes clean. Consumer Reports found that to get a decent level of performance, you now have to pay over $1000. That compares with $300-400 under the old rules. A 5% tax rate isn’t worth that sort of difference.

* As for low-carbon cars, I took a quick look at Prof. King’s report and while she admits that people tend to value safety over the environment in deciding which car to buy, she doesn’t mention that safety and emissions are trade-offs. In general, unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money, a less emitting car is less safe. She doesn’t quantify the additional injuries or fatalities low-carbon cars involve anywhere as far as I can see (again, I just took a very quick look). The National Acadamies of Sciences here found that the downsizing of the US car fleet in the 80s resulted in 2000 extra deaths a year.

* Taxing flights rather than passengers will undoubtedly result in more overcrowding, more cancellations and more delays at airports.

So the environment will get a small, probably unmeasurable benefit in terms of slight emissions reduction, while the taxpayer, consumer and traveler suffer. That’s what happens when you travel the rocky road of emissions reduction.