The British government will lose its leadership position on climate
change and risk scuppering a global deal to cut emissions if it presses
ahead with a new generation of dirty coal power, say leading US
scientists and environmental leaders.
The heads of three influential groups, representing more than 2
million members, have written to the foreign secretary, David Miliband,
warning that the UK proposals for up to eight new coal plants threatens
the chance of the US joining a post-Kyoto international agreement to be
agreed in 2009.
It is the first public sign of growing international anger over the
plans and will add to pressure on Miliband and the environment
secretary, Hilary Benn, to oppose the government’s new coal policy in
cabinet. Most immediate is the decision on whether to approve the first
major planning application for a new coal plant at Kingsnorth in Kent,
the site of this month’s Climate Camp protest.
In the UK, there has already been heavy criticism of the plans to
build new coal plants, without technology to capture and bury the large
volumes of carbon dioxide emitted. Lord Smith, the new head of the
government’s Environment Agency, recently added forcefully to
condemnations by the Environmental Audit Committee, the Royal Society,
City investment groups, the government’s environmental advisor Jonathon
Porritt, former chief scientist Professor Sir David King, and the
Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank.
The letter, now revealed to the Guardian, is signed by the heads of the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
It argues Britain is in a particularly important position because of
“your government’s historic commitment to lead on global warming in
Europe and around the world.”
It adds: “As proposed, these conventional coal plants lack any
limits on their emissions of carbon dioxide and would drastically
increase the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions and make achievement of your
stated pollution reduction goals extraordinarily difficult, if not
impossible. Building new conventional plants and setting the UK up to
fail and lose its leadership mantle will make our work in the US all
the more difficult.”
Tim Jones, climate policy officer for the World Development Movement
anti-poverty campaign group, said the concern was shared across the
developing world, especially where emerging environment campaigns are
arguing for much poorer nations to cut emissions, and rich countries
like the UK are being blamed for changes such as typhoons, drought and
rising sea levels.
“They can adapt to one to two degrees of warming, but if it’s more
than that they can’t adapt; they are just filled with despair,” said
British officials and ministers are understood to have already been
challenged over plans for unabated coal power by other governments.
The US intervention - signed by Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s
executive director, Kevin Knobloch, the UCS president, and Frances G
Beinecke, the NRDC director - follows an unprecedented campaign against
new coal power in the US which has led to 66 of a proposed 150 new
plants being abandoned or rejected by politicians and the courts, and
most of the remainder locked in legal battles.
But although the two main candidates for the US presidential
election in November, John McCain and Barack Obama, have both declared
their support for international emissions cuts, campaigners warn that
any deal would also have to be approved by Congress, which would need
to know there was public support for such a move, particularly during a
‘If the UK takes a firm stand and rejects conventional coal it will
send a strong, clear message to our new President and a new Congress,
as well as to other countries considering new coal plants,’ the letter
Replying for the British government, the energy minister at DBERR, Malcolm Wicks, said “as a ‘live’ planning case I cannot comment on the merits or otherwise…or on the timing of any decision”.
In a Guardian interview earlier this month, Wicks widened the
government’s argument in favour of coal, saying that new power stations
were not just essential for energy security but also to allow the
development of carbon capture and storage technology. Without that
technology, “all is lost on global warming”, he said, because of
China’s reliance on the fuel. “The idea that if we showed some kind of
lead and we in Britain say no to coal and China will say ‘OK we will
follow’ is just daft,” he said. Green campaigners reject the idea that
CCS cannot be developed without new, unabated power stations.
A recent report by the IPPR said the European Union’s goal of
reducing emissions from the power sector and heavy industry through its
emissions trading scheme would collapse if the go-ahead were given to
seven new coal plants in the UK and up to 75 across Europe.