Magazine edition: 3-2011

Article title:

Turn off the taps

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Turn off the taps

UNA Blackheath & Greenwich branch submitted the following motion to UNA-UK’s 2011 Policy Conference:

"Noting that governments at Cancún agreed to keep global warming under 2°C above pre-industrial levels (thought to represent the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change);

Disturbed by a Royal Society report in January 2011 that there is now little chance of maintaining mean global temperature at or below 2°C; and

Observing that despite the Kyoto Protocol, global CO2 levels have continued to increase at the same rate, showing it has failed in its overall purpose and should be replaced by something more effective when it expires in 2012;

UNA UK urges the UK government to:

1. Explore alternative cap-and-trade systems that regulate greenhouse gas emissions ‘upstream’, near to their origins, rather than ‘downstream’ as prsently attempted; and

2. Promote this initially for the EU Emissions Trading System, which would largely eliminate its present problems, pioneering a global solution under the auspices of the UN."

Since we submitted this motion, the International Energy Agency has reported that global emissions of carbon dioxide have risen to a record high, and there now seems little chance of maintaining global warming at or below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The essential thing that must be done is to reduce global CO2  emissions from fossil fuels. The present system is not working. Instead of trying to control emissions “downstream”, where countless millions of people and businesses use fossil fuels in their everyday actions, control should be exercised “upstream” at the relatively few places where coal, oil and gas are extracted from the ground.  Taps should be turned off at the source (see cartoon).

The process would be incremental, and while ultimately it should be managed at the global level, initially it may be more politically acceptable in a European context. Our motion therefore urges the UK government to take the lead in promoting reform of the EU Emissions Trading System in the manner elaborated in this paper by the Kyoto2 Support Group.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said that “public awareness is really going to be the key” to spur a deal to avert heatwaves, drought, floods and rising seas. UNA-UK, through its branch structure, is extremely well-placed to promote such public awareness, and follow-up action.

UNA-UK’s new strategic plan, which is still in draft stage, states that the organisation works to achieve its goals by “influencing policy at the decision-making level, and nurturing support for change at the popular level.”  The challenge to all UNA branches is to translate conference resolutions such as this one into local actions, for example, by holding meetings to spread awareness of the issues and encouraging members to write to their MPs to support policy recommendations.

Peter Greaves is a member of UNA Blackheath & Greenwich branch.