Notes from PA21 Meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
Meeting Date : Tuesday 25th March 2008
Meeting Time : 14:05 – 15:00
Meeting Venue: Whitehall
Joan Ruddock MP, Under-Secretary of State, Environment
Annette Brooke MP
Tony Hamilton PA21 Chair
Theresa McManus PA21 Secretary
Notes from Meeting
After introductions, and once sat down, the meeting was handed over to Tony.
Tony referred Joan to the handout provided for details on Poole Agenda 21.
Joan expressed an interest in how many people are involved in PA21 activities, and what we thought of the public’s opinions on the climate change challenge. Tony advised that through our membership, meetings and activities we probably come into contact with about 300 people in Poole, but that attitudes towards making changes were becoming more positive.
Joan stated that according to official figures, currently only 26% of the UK public feel empowered to make a difference to climate change. She expressed disappointment that so many still expect the government to take the lead and do not take personal responsibility.
Tony stated that the objective of the meeting was for us to persuade Joan to become that one person who changes the world by stepping up the action against climate change.
The Seriousness of the Crisis
Joan agreed that a global temperature rise of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels would be what the IPCC calls dangerous, and also broadly agreed that a rise in the range of 2 degrees C – 5 degrees C would be catastrophic.
[ Post Meeting Note 1: it was not clear whether it was accepted that the threshold was 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temps or 2 degrees C above 1993. ]
Joan disagreed with our contention that we are already stuck with a 2 degrees C rise and made it clear that it remains the UK target to keep the rise below this figure. However, she also said that she thought that the UK could cope with a 2 degrees C rise in global temperature.
Joan stated that she totally accepts the recommendations for developed countries in the IPCC 4AR report and the findings of the Stern report.
Joan also stated that the UK contribution to climate change, measured by CO2 emissions, is only 2%, and questioned the value of reducing that EVEN to 0% if no other countries follow suit.
Joan went on to explain that obtaining world wide support is more important than to focus on UK reductions, because the potential benefits (presumably in terms of the %age of emissions reductions) are far greater.
Suggested improvements in Targets
Tony pointed out that the target of 2 degrees C is likely to be breached because of existing emissions. Joan responded that she did not accept that, and that it remains the government’s stated target. However, it was accepted that this target is becoming more and more difficult to reach.
Tony questioned why the UK is using a target of 550 ppm, when the IPCC says that we need to keep below 375 ppm to restrict the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees C. Joan clarified that the UK is aiming for CO2 stabilisation within the range of 450 – 550 ppm, although Tony pointed out that the 450-550 range still has a mid point of 500 ppm, compared with 375 ppm.
Tony pointed out that the IPCC stated that the emissions from the next 2 – 3 decades were critical to the eventual rise in global temperature. Joan responded by saying that she accepted that the next 10 – 15 years are critical.
[ Post meeting note 2: we subsequently felt that Joan’s response related to target setting in the next 10 – 15 years rather than to emissions reductions. ]
Joan stated that the most benefit will be derived from setting an example in terms of process and mechanisms : showing that setting targets is worthwhile, achievable, and a process that can easily be transferred to other countries and cultures. She also stated that she recognised that this would be undermined if the UK was seen as being hypocritical.
Joan stated that climate change negotiations for establishing post-Kyoto targets will conclude in 2009.
Suggested improvements in Policies
Tony asserted that some government polices are counterproductive e.g. policies relating to aviation and motor transport.
Joan responded by saying that there are three constraints to take into consideration: the government must take the whole economy, the international situation and public perception into account in any decisions taken.
Joan also stated that it is economically damaging not to keep up with the competition. With regard to aviation, there is currently very strong competition in mainland Europe.
Joan informed the meeting that in actual fact, there has been a reduction in flights from Heathrow. She went on to describe how the intention is to cap aviation emissions to 2002 – 2004 levels which will continue to allow some air travel but limit the damage done.
Joan noted that only domestic aviation emissions are recorded for nations and pointed out that the UK has been at the forefront of forging an agreement to include international aviation in the EU Carbon Trading Scheme.
Joan expressed surprise that Tony was focussing on aviation when the energy sector produces far more emissions. Tony and Theresa explained that the point being made was about sending mixed messages to the public: asking people to take climate change seriously on the one hand but whilst offering no barriers to continued aviation and motor transport expansion.
Joan went on to explain that government statistics showed the following for the UK population (probably the voting subsection).
Joan emphasised the importance of moving at a pace to suit the electorate.
Theresa described how a low carbon economy cannot be achieved whilst we are aiming for continually increasing economic growth. That we need a major philosophical shift that allows people to aspire to local and sustainable living.
Joan agreed that in the future, lifestyle changes will be necessary.
How to make this possible ?
Tony agreed that it is not feasible to bring about the much more drastic changes we need within the normal political framework. However, since those changes are vital we must find a way to change the political framework to make this possible.
Somehow, we must take climate change out of party politics in order that appropriate leadership can be provided. Tony recognised that this is difficult, and that he did not know how to do it. He suggested that the government should bring the political parties together to present a united front on this issue. A cross party agreement is required on the actions necessary to combat climate change. Perhaps something like a national government or an inter-party body might serve.
Joan considered this to be unworkable within the current political framework.
Tony and Joan agreed that there is a moral imperative to take action against climate change.
Tony proposed that fuel rationing is a simple and effective action that can be taken. Joan disagreed, but stated that she supports the concept of personal carbon rationing, although the implementation will probably be a long way away and will need to be transnational. Tony agreed that this is a great long-term objective but pointed out that fuel rationing is much easier and makes a good first step.
Joan stated that transport to work should be via public transport, but that there will always be some areas (presumably rural areas) where the car will still be the main form of transport.
Joan pointed out that Transport for London was introducing many successful initiatives. Tony, Theresa and Annette talked about the inadequacies of the local transport system, the need for good systems in smaller communities, and that the cost of public transport is too high. Joan responded that although people often complain about the cost, it is not the major factor. There are usually a lot of other factors considered in deciding whether to use public transport, e.g. convenience, and that this is often more influential. This was not agreed.
Everyone thanked everyone else for their time and for the pleasant exchange of views, and the meeting was closed.
[ Post Meeting Note : We omitted to mention one item on our list concerning Sustainable Development, and since this is one of the responsibilities of the Under Secretary we feel it may be worth mentioning. It is our experience that too often ‘sustainable’ developments, e.g. out of town shopping centres which increase car travel are in fact normal commercial developments with a faint green wash of sustainability applied, rather than being developments which lead to a more sustainable future. We would like to see more rigorous controls applied to local development to ensure effective sustainability. ]