Energy and climate change

Alison Sutherland
Copenhagen and its aftermath
The Copenhagen conference is widely regarded in the United Kingdom as a reverse for the European Union. The Union is seen as having played only a marginal role in the negotiations, and where European voices were raised, they were apparently those of the major member states rather than that of the Commission. The results of the conference itself are generally seen in this country as inconclusive, but this is an outcome of less concern to British electors than might have been the case twelve months ago. Opinion polls have shown a definite decline in the interest of British electors in questions relating to climate change over the past year.[1]
Future negotiations on climate change
The outgoing Labour government advocated from the beginning of this year a move by the European Union to more demanding targets for the reduction of carbon emissions. The incoming coalition government, in which the prominent Liberal Democrat Christopher Huhne is the Secretary of State for the Environment, has continued this advocacy, although British NGOs have called for a 40 percent reduction target rather than the 30 percent envisaged by the British government.[2] It seems to be common ground between all the British political parties that the setting of demanding reduction targets for the reduction of carbon emissions will contribute to reestablishing the Union’s position as a leader of the global debate on these issues.[3] Perhaps because of declining interest in these questions in the United Kingdom, perhaps because of the fixation of British political attention upon the general election, the question of the British government’s and the European Union’s reactions to the relative failure of the Copenhagen meeting has not been as broadly discussed over the past six months as might have been expected. Governmental support for more demanding European targets for reducing carbon emissions has not led to any marked public reaction, whether positive or negative. Nor is there any noticeable public pressure for the British government or the European Union to take decisive new measures in response to the unsatisfactory outcome of the Copenhagen conference.
The United Nations or other fora?
No other forum enjoys more credibility in the United Kingdom than the United Nations as a vehicle for negotiations on climate change. The awareness of the limitations of even this traditional forum as a generator of international agreement on climate change accounts in large part for a sense of frustration and lassitude which underlies much current discussion of climate-related issues in the United Kingdom.
Mitigation and adaptation
The coalition agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties established after the recent general election commits both signatories to “explore the creation of new international sources of funding for the purpose of climate change mitigation and adaptation.”[4] This represents a continuation of the policy of the previous Labour government and is known to be a policy to which the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Christopher Huhne, is personally greatly committed.

[1] Jowitt, The Guardian, 25 March 2010.

[2] World Wildlife Fund, press release, 26 May 2010.

[3] B. Webster, The Times, 23 March 2010.

[4] Coalition agreement, May 2010.