Economy doesn’t trump climate: EU sticks by GHG plan, UK goes for 80% cut.

Eastern Europeans and others seeking to use the current financial meltdown as an excuse to roll back climate commitment have failed (for now). The BBC reports:

European Union leaders agreed to stick to their plan to cut greenhouse gases — despite a surprise demand by Poland and six other member states to drop them to ease the impact on industry struggling with the global credit crunch.

Speaking at the end of a two-day summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it.”

Barack Obama seems to feel the same even as U.S. conservatives glom onto any justification for delay. I am beginning to think that a better term for them than “deniers” or “delayers” is simply “inactivists.”

The British government meanwhile has unveiled a tougher climate target:

The government has committed the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the middle of this century. Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said the current 60% target would be replaced by a higher goal. He told MPs the government would not “row back” on green issues in the light of the current economic crisis.

Milband announced a variety of specific actions:

He also signalled new help to encourage small-scale electricity generation though technology such as home-based solar panels and wind turbines.

He told the Commons the Energy Bill would be amended to introduce a “feed-in tariff” to guarantee prices for micro-generation projects which are able to supply electricity to the national grid.

Speaking later to BBC News, he said the 80% target was “tough but it is do-able” and could be met through measures including renewable fuels, nuclear power and individuals “doing things differently”.

He said changes to the climate were “happening much quicker than we anticipated or even feared a few years ago” and it was “right to step up the pace”.

“Our children and our grandchildren will really not thank us if we just carry on and let this problem get worse. The costs that they will face will be all the greater if we do that,” he added.

The UK “government accepted all the recommendations of the report from Lord Turner’s Committee on Climate Change.” Turner said the target could be “achieved at a cost of 1% to 2% of GDP in 2050.”

Only one downside in the UK action:

The target does not include aviation or shipping emissions — but Mr Miliband said they would “play a part” in the government’s overall strategy….

[Lord Turner] said a cut of 80% on 1990 levels by 2050 should cover all the major greenhouse gases — not just carbon dioxide — and all sectors of the UK economy, including shipping and aviation.

But because of practical problems in allocating emissions of international transport to the UK, they should not be included in the Climate Change Bill’s five-yearly carbon budgets, he said.

Instead the overall target should be “at least 80%”, with greater reductions in sectors covered by the bill if aviation and shipping did not make sufficient cuts by the middle of the century, he said.

But Lib Dem climate change and energy spokesman Steve Webb said Mr Miliband’s decision not to include aviation and shipping in the 80% target made a mockery of his commitments.

“It’s like telling everyone you’re going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes.

I don’t really lose any sleep over the short-term omission of aviation. First, this is a mid-century target, so there will be plenty of time to toughen it up over the next few decades as it becomes clearer and clearer that climate change is coming harder and faster than scientists feared.

Second, it isn’t obvious what the best strategy is for aviation emissions right now, but we may have a better idea in a few years depending on the outcome of research to develop low-carbon aviation fuel.

Third, once the economic slowdown is over and oil prices start rising again to record levels, the aviation industry is going to get slammed. It is far from clear how the aviation industry survives oil prices at $150 a barrel or higher.

For now, kudos to the true leaders of the international climate movement in Europe who understand that nothing trumps the need for immediate and sustained action to reverse and then slash carbon emissions.

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