Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 9 News List

UN tells West to cut emissions to save the poorest

By Larry Elliott  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The human rights of the world's poorest people will be violated unless Britain and other developed countries accept the need for drastic and immediate steps to prevent global warming from triggering dangerous climate change, the UN warned on Tuesday.

Calling for urgent action on a post-Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the UN said the risks of "ecological catastrophe" were rising and called on the West to adopt policies that would cut carbon emissions by almost a third by 2020, and by at least 80 percent by 2050.

Kevin Watkins, editor of the near-400-page human development report, said at its launch in Brazil that climate change was about more than science or economics.

"It is about social justice and the human rights of the world's poor and marginalized. Failure to act on climate change would be tantamount to a systematic violation of the human rights of the poor," he said.

The report is critical of all developed countries for their performance on cutting emissions. But it singled out the British government for failing to show enough ambition in its plan to combat greenhouse gases, citing the upward trend in emissions from the energy and transport sectors and the lack of progress in developing renewable sources of energy.

UK International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said: "This report highlights the scale and urgency of the problem.

"The effects of climate change will hit the world's poorest hardest. If we don't tackle climate change now, we will struggle to help the world's poor build a better life for themselves and their children."


While praising the UK government for a "bold and innovative" climate change bill that would legally bind ministers to mandatory cuts in emissions, the UN said "radical new policies" -- such as carbon taxes, tougher regulations to phase out coal-fired power stations and higher vehicle excise duty for gas-guzzling cars -- would be needed if Britain was to have any chance of hitting its target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent to 32 percent by 2020.

There were "serious questions about the level of ambition, and about the UK's capacity to meet its own carbon reduction targets."

The report comes barely a week after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain was committed to the EU target of a 20 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 and a 20 percent use of renewables for energy by the same date.

In the summer the Guardian uncovered government documents saying the 20 percent target was unachievable and ways should be found to undermine it at a European level.

The UN report said that: "Britain also lags far behind best EU practice on renewable energy: it currently produces only 2 percent of its overall energy from renewables."

Climate change has moved up the political agenda in Britain, with the government seeking to find ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions without harming prospects for economic growth. Ministers believe that a mix of energy sources, including nuclear and renewables, will be needed in the future and that greater fuel efficiency in aviation can offset the impact of the expansion of Heathrow.

The UN report criticized the government for excluding shipping and aviation from the UK's target. Taken together, the UN said, the two sources of greenhouse gases would increase the UK's carbon budget by 27 percent by 2050, canceling out half of the planned 60 percent reduction.

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