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UN Deadlock Puts Strain on UK’s Climate Agenda

The UK’s transport and climate change agenda is facing severe strain as efforts to secure an international agreement on emission reductions founder and new research highlights a growing hostility and cynicism towards the behaviour change agenda among the British public.

International climate negotiators this week expressed increasing gloom about the prospects of securing binding targets to cut emissions at December’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. The talks are supposed to agree a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

Transport minister Sadiq Khan, who has responsibility for the climate change agenda at the DfT, this week acknowledged that hopes were fading of an international agreement. “If you look at what’s happening now in America, the problem is President Obama has spent a lot of his goodwill with the Healthcare Bill,” Khan told LTT. “So will he be able to sell a deal back to Senate and Congress even if we got one in Copenhagen? And it’s a serious question. We’ve got to be alive to that.”

Climate policy analyst Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University told LTT: “My own view is the international community is completely deadlocked on the idea of concrete, legally binding targets. It will be delayed indefinitely in my view.”

Peiser, who edits science policy network CCNet, said the lack of international agreement would make it more difficult for governments to introduce policies to cut emissions that are unpopular with voters. “Individual governments will be making policy on the hoof. So they will not be able to legitimise their actions on the basis of ‘The UN or Copenhagen has decided…’,” he said.

Peiser, a long-standing critic of proposals for binding targets, said failure at Copenhagen posed a particular problem for the UK, which has led the international climate change debate. “For the UK a new Government will have to revisit the Climate Change Act, otherwise they will be committing economic suicide. The British Government always argued ‘we will lead and the rest will follow’. Now the others are not following they will have to revisit unilateral action.

“In all likelihood the next Government will be less enthusiastic on climate issues, given we don’t have warming and the public is becoming more sceptical,” he said. “Of course, things could change if, for instance, we had another record heatwave.”

The growing realisation that a meaningful international deal is unlikely comes as the Institute for Public Policy Research published a report highlighting the challenge policy-makers face in encouraging people to adopt less carbon-hungry travel behaviour. It says a series of workshops revealed many citizens thought the subject of climate change was “very boring” and others dismissed it as “faddy” and trendy”. Some questioned the point of acting to reduce emissions if other countries weren’t taking similar action.

“Many of the participants felt that previous requests for them to do more for the environment, or for climate change, had made them feel guilty about their lifestyles, and some were resentful of this,” said the left-leaning think tank. “Many also saw people who engage in environmentally-friendly behaviour as ‘self righteous’ and ‘smug’.”

The research focused specifically on ‘Now people’ who the IPPR describes as people who “have a hunger for life, and want to devour it”. The IPPR says this group of people are “drivers of fashions and trends, meaning that they are a particularly powerful subsection of the population when it comes to determining consumption-related behaviours”.

Copyright 2009, TX