Still going above and beyond Kyoto—as well as US efforts—the UK will not make its target of 20% emission reduction by 2010.

When the British government announced its new program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 18% last Tuesday, English lefties and environmental groups fulminated over the gap between promise and reality. While the reduction level exceeds the Kyoto Protocol‘s 12.5% target, it falls short of Britain’s self-imposed target of 20%.

Tony Juniper, executive director of the UK chapter of Friends of the Earth International, wrote a ferocious opinion piece in the liberal-leaning paper The Guardian, calling the new program “nothing short of pathetic.” A lead editorial in The Independent read, “The Government’s review of its climate change was as limp as we feared.” And a representative from Greenpeace‘s UK climate campaign, Charlie Kronick, told Agence France-Presse that Prime Minister Tony Blair “fiddles while the world burns.”

Meanwhile, across the pond, American environmentalists seemed unaffected, or rather, enthused, by Britain’s emission reduction targets. The US did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol due to economic concerns. According to statistics from the Department of Energy‘s Energy Information Administration, the US government released about 1 billion more metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2004 than it did in 1990, emitting a total of over 7 billion metric tons that year.

“[The British government is] actively participating in the solution, which is a lot more than you can say for the US, who are actively trying to undermine any effort to solve what we at Greenpeace believe is the most pressing environmental problem for quite some time, if not in our history,” said Christopher Miller, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

Hans Verolme, director of the World Wildlife Fund‘s US climate change campaign, said that the force of the British reaction to Blair stemmed from a long-standing concern that Blair, who has sent “mixed messages” on plans for the country after Kyoto expires in 2016, might not have the bite to back up his bark.

“People may feel that for a government that has made this one of its primary issues, both domestically and internationally, it should meet its targets,” he said. “I understand if you’re an American looking at this from afar, not knowing the context or the background, you look at that number and say that’s an impressive number. In the US, you have only voluntary ambitions, and we’re not even meeting those ambitions. And emissions continue to rise.”

The English plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the development and proliferation of biofuels, mandatory caps on carbon-producing industries and campaigns to increase energy efficiency at a household level. By 2010, 5% of transportation fuel will have to come from renewable sources, and higher-efficiency cars will be subsidized. Finally, “smart meters” that track energy use will be distributed to consumers to increase public awareness of consumption.

England is currently one of two countries worldwide, along with Sweden, to be fully on track towards realizing the goals laid out in Kyoto, according to a December 2005 press release from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a progressive British think tank. Out of the 15 countries participating in Kyoto, 10 were given “red light” status by IPPR, meaning that—even with proposed amendments—the nations will fail to meet their targets.

Margaret Beckett, Blair’s environment secretary, praised the UK’s revised targets, saying that the government will not stop there.

“This program contains a package of far-reaching measures that will affect all the major sectors and sources of UK emissions,” she said in a statement to the press. “But it is not the last word. There is more that government can and will do to meet the target.”

Originally published April 2, 2006


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