UK government talks green but acts the opposite

19/5/2011 Guardian Climate change: the UK must end its double-dealing - by Deborah Doane.David Cameron’s welcome pledge to step up cuts in carbon emissions boosts his
government’s green credentials, but its actions at home and abroad tell a different story.

As David Cameron finally aims to put some muscle behind his supposed green
credentials, by backing more ambitious domestic cuts in CO2 over the coming
years, it’s worth noting that there’s still a fair amount of two-faced behaviour
from his government. In particular, the UK’s performance internationally has
been more in the spirit of good old British neo-colonialism, that is: “Do as we
say, not as we do.”

While this week’s commitment to achieve significant cuts by 2030 is to be
praised, let’s not forget that the UK has failed to meet previous pledges to cut
emissions. In April, it was revealed that in fact the UK’s CO2 emissions did not
fall by 28 million tonnes between 1990 and 2008, as the official record
indicates, but rose by a substantial 100 million tonnes.

The UK has been a leading advocate for highly flawed carbon markets to offset
the disparities between rich and poor country emissions. We’ve already been
experimenting with carbon trading through what’s known as the Clean Development
Mechanism (CDM). Yet the CDM has come under extensive criticism for structural
flaws that keep carbon prices low, and effectively provide a “get out of jail
free” mechanism for high-emissions nations like the UK. A 2008 working paper by
two Stanford University academics concluded that “between one and two-thirds of
all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts”.

Meanwhile, the CDM has enabled polluting industries to buy cheap carbon credits
to meet their emissions commitments and avoid shifting to more costly low carbon
technologies, and has been slammed for backing projects that have had
devastating impacts on local communities.

Nonetheless, the Department for Energy and Climate Change recently announced it
is providing £7m to a new global scheme administered by the World Bank, designed
to enable countries to set up their own carbon trading schemes.

The UK has also failed to live up to financial commitments to help developing
countries deal with the effects of climate change. Since the industrial
revolution, the UK has contributed disproportionately to the excessive build up
of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, and (for better or for worse)
constrained the ability of the world’s poorest countries to develop along
similar lines. Even if we were to discount our historical track record, the fact
remains that we emit more than 9 tonnes of CO2 per capita every year, compared,
for example, with just 0.3 tonnes for the average Bangladeshi.

For this reason, the UK government does acknowledge that we must shoulder the
lion’s share of responsibility for paying to help poor countries cope with the
impacts of climate change. It pledged £1.5bn at the UN climate summit in
Copenhagen in December 2009, to be paid in 2010-2012.

So one would assume this money would be forthcoming in the form of grants to
developing countries. But the UK’s contribution for climate adaption has been
made solely through a World Bank fund, the pilot programme for climate
resilience, which in turn makes loans to developing countries. In other words,
the UK is piling further debt onto poor countries, so that they can pay for the
damage wrought by our own profligate use of CO2.

Meanwhile, the UN Adaptation Fund, the source by which poor countries can most
easily access grants for projects to help them cope with the devastating impacts
of climate change, has yet to receive a single penny from the UK, despite
significant public pressure.

So where does this take us? In keeping with its surprise push to rapidly reduce
its emissions, will the UK now take progressive steps internationally? One of
the few positives from the UN talks in Cancún last December was the decision to
“mobilise” $100bn for a new Green Climate Fund which developing countries can
access to help meet the costs of adapting to climate change and pursuing low
carbon growth. Just how this works in practice is still very much up for grabs,
and this is where the concern lies.

Understandably, the main beneficiaries, developing countries, want the fund to
be governed democratically and backed by guaranteed public money from rich
nations, so that they can’t escape their pledges when times are tough. They want
the fund to be flexible, and accessible for investments that won’t necessarily
see returns, such as sea-wall defences, as well as those with income-generating
potential such as renewable energy projects.

But Britain seems to prefer the traditional World Bank model – donor-controlled,
top-down, relying on private sources of funding, with income-generating
potential alone.

This two-faced approach to climate change, both domestically and
internationally, risks entrenching the British government firmly within the camp
of the world’s worst climate rogues. With the prospect for an international
climate agreement already hanging in the balance at the UN summit in Durban
later this year, we can ill afford the UK tipping us into a political abyss of
foot-dragging, false solutions, and fake financial pledges.

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