REUTERS | Ricardo Moraes

There is no Planet B: after Copenhagen, what next?

In my November blog post, I thought there was a real risk that any deal reached during the Copenhagen climate conference would be a toothless tiger, with very few binding commitments to reducing CO2 emissions. Well, on reflection, even that pessimistic prediction was a little over-optimistic. The Copenhagen “accord” fails to provide any binding commitments to reducing emissions, other than “recognising” the scientific case for keeping global temperature rises to 2°C this century.

The “accord”, the last ditch deal brokered by Barack Obama and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, is pitched by world leaders as some progress, in light of the political in-fighting that led to the near-collapse of the conference itself.

What happens next?

Various countries have taken the “accord” and are continuing negotiations of its terms, in order that something more binding may be developed. At the end of this month (on 31 January), countries have to submit emission reduction targets and their proposed mitigation actions.

European environment ministers recently met in Seville to begin deciding on the level of emission reduction targets. There have been calls for Europe to increase its target of reducing carbon emissions by 20% on 1990 levels by 2020, particularly following Japan and the USA’s pledges to cut their emissions by more than this.

Continuing an alliance that developed during Copenhagen, Brazil, China, India and South Africa are set to meet in New Dehli on 24 January to define a common position on their emission reduction targets, as well as finalising a mutual stance on climate aid money.

What does this mean for the UK construction industry?

Put bluntly, the absence of a binding agreement from Copenhagen means that those in the construction industry in the UK still need to wade through a raft of legislation for guidance on their legal obligations when building new structures or developing existing stock.

As well as the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan and the Building Regulations, the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (the Carbon Reduction Commitment) will come into force in April this year. On top of this, a number of DCLG consultations on zero carbon and sustainability issues are likely to lead to the introduction of further regulatory requirements later in the year. Yet more regulation for those within the industry to get to grips with.

This new legislation is, of course, a positive step in seeking to reduce our carbon emissions. However, if the Copenhagen “accord” is not developed into a binding commitment in the international arena, there is a danger that any well-intended policies for reducing emissions in the UK will have a negligible impact on a global scale, particularly if other countries don’t commit to reducing their emissions.

One thought on “There is no Planet B: after Copenhagen, what next?

  1. reports that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has decided that the 31 January 2010 deadline set out in the Copenhagen accord is, in fact, a “soft deadline”. This means that “countries can indicate targets by the deadline or later”. While this may be a practical necessity, it damages hopes of creating impetus for international action for the rest of 2010.

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