Climate change measures: Report praises politicians

St Petersburg, Russia (Getty Images) Efforts to curb emissions at a national level are making a difference, the report says

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Politicians are doing more to combat climate change than they are given credit for, according to a report.

It says 32 out of 33 countries surveyed have introduced, or are producing, significant climate-related laws.

Out of these, 18 nations are making "significant" progress, with some emerging economies taking a lead.

The Globe group of parliamentarians, which published the report, admits that emissions are still growing at a dangerous level.

But Globe president John Gummer, the former Environment Secretary, says progress on a national level gives some cause for optimism.

"The tide is beginning to turn decisively on tackling climate change, the defining material challenge of this century," he said.

"This is a game-changing development …taking place across each and every continent."

Different strokes

The study on climate legislation is the third from Globe International, a group concerned with environmental issues.

It says the document is the most comprehensive audit across major developed and emerging economies. It has been produced with the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Start Quote

When a critical mass of countries have moved sufficiently forward you will see the process take its next major step.”

End Quote Adam Matthews Globe secretary

Representatives of 33 countries will attend the launch at the first Globe Climate Legislation Summit, to be held in London on 14-15 January.

The report says approaches and priorities for climate-related legislation differ from country to country, adding that they are inspired by climate change, energy efficiency, energy security or competitiveness.

But the authors say legislative changes are producing similar results - improved energy security, greater resource efficiency and cleaner, lower-carbon economic growth.

It says these national law changes are creating the mechanisms to measure, report and verify emissions - a pre-requisite for a comprehensive global climate treaty that countries have agreed to settle in 2015.

And it says actions at a national level will offer world leaders the political space to go further and faster in the UN negotiations.

The report lists highlights in 2012 as including:

  • Mexico passing a climate change law with a target to reduce greenhouse gases by 30% against business as usual by 2020,
  • South Korea agreeing an emissions trading scheme,
  • Bangladesh passing the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Act,
  • China beginning to draft its national climate change law
  • and local legislation in Shenzhen to manage emissions.

Waste not, want not

Sceptics will point out that many of the legislative changes have been introduced because it makes business sense to waste less energy.

Earth seen from space (Image: AP) The pace of progress in global climate negotiations is too slow for most campaigners

What's more these changes are way off the pace scientists say is needed to stave off potentially dangerous climate change. The World Bank warned recently that temperatures might rise by a catastrophic 4C (7F) above pre-industrial levels, given the rate of political progress.

There is also a difference between politicians making promises and actually keeping them, as the Kyoto Protocol proved when Canada simply withdrew after missing its targets.

And, apart from the UK - with its world-leading Climate Change Act - it is hard to find many nations willing to commit themselves to protecting the climate through to 2050 irrespective of their competitors' actions.

Co-author Sam Fankhauser from LSE told BBC News: "Obviously there is a pain threshold beyond which countries won't go - but they have mandated more than just 'win-win' targets.

"See the Chinese carbon intensity target of 45%, which requires policy effort. If you make the right assumptions about future UK economic growth, China's target may well be stricter than the UK's."

Adam Matthews, secretary of Globe, told BBC News that movements at national level were genuinely significant.

"I think this reflects a more fundamental shift in how international politics is working," he said.

"Look at UN process - Rio/Copenhagen/Doha - the process does not lead the legislation, in fact I would argue quite the reverse.

"When a critical mass of countries have moved sufficiently forward you will see the process take its next major step.

"The main reason is that the changes that need to take place are about economic management of the economy and these are not going to be determined by environment ministers in an international process - but by nations on their own terms.

"When they have done so there will be greater capacity for the international process to move forward.

"Look at China, they are developing significant national measures under no obligation from the international process - this is because they recognise the threat of climate change to their people and their stability.

"They also they see the opportunity of moving promptly and at scale. You will only see an acceleration of this, which in turn will flow through to the negotiations."

Environmentalists dismayed at the gridlock in the UN's climate process will be heartened by progress at a national level.

But if they need a reality check, they might turn to a recent report from US think-tank World Resources Institute. It reveals plans for 1,199 power stations fuelled by coal.

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