Major revision
January 1990
Last amendment
March 2008
  • ePub

CLIMATE CHANGE

Background

CC001 Climate Change is one of the worst environmental hazards facing human society and the rest of the biosphere. The detrimental effects of human-induced global warming so far on human societies and ecosystems are already severe. Future effects over the next few decades will be far worse.

CC002 As climate change is a global issue it is a clear example of the need for global environmental cooperation. This is indeed happening, if far too slowly. The 'Earth Summit' in Rio in 1992 led to the establishment of the UNFCCC (The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change); which is both a good overview statement of the issues and an international organisation to address them. Separately, the UN established the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to organise work into the details of the science, impacts, and possibilities for remedial and adaptational action.

CC003 The IPCC has issued three major 'Assessment Reports' since it was formed, the latest in early 2001. The first of these included the oft-quoted assertion that stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere requires an immediate 60% reduction, at least, in emissions, and this remains broadly their view.

CC004 However IPCC conclusions tend to be conservative, because they have to be approved by consensus between governments. So common prudence, backed up by considerable evidence, suggests regarding them as being at the optimistic end of a range of plausible futures. It is clear that in any case no level of net CO2 emissions is sustainable in the long term, as the sinks (mainly forests and the sea) that are absorbing about half at the moment will inevitably reduce, due to the acidification and warming of seawater, and increased respiration in soil.

CC005 The Kyoto Protocol, negotiated under the auspices of the UNFCCC, came into force in 2005. It commits most industrialised countries to greenhouse gas emissions reductions averaging 5% from a 1990 base by 2012. It is extremely complex, and has many serious flaws. Its major technical problems are the "Clean Development Mechanism" and the "Joint Implementation" proposals, which open big loopholes for profitable cheating. Also, the non-involvement of the USA is a major setback, emissions from international civil aviation and shipping are not counted, and the proposed compliance mechanism is toothless.

A.1 Causes

CC010 The principal gases causing global warming are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), ozone, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and similar compounds, and nitrous oxide (N2O). Kyoto Protocol controls apply to a basket of the following gases: CO2, (CH4), N2O, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Most CFCs are already controlled by the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances. The most important source activity by far is the burning of fossil fuels. Industrialised countries are responsible as at 2001 for about 60% of the world's ongoing CO2 emissions and historically for about 75% of the total.

CC011 The warming is partially counteracted by cooling caused by dust, both from industry and intermittently from major volcanic eruptions; and from sulphate pollution. Expanding forests also absorb significant amounts of CO2; currently it seems that mature forests are also absorbing CO2, though this effect cannot continue for long. Peat bogs are also a major store of carbon.

CC012 So far just over half of CO2 emissions have been consistently absorbed. In the 1990s there was considerable debate about where the absorbing was happening, as it is much harder to measure than emissions. A scientific agreement was eventually reached that boreal forests, tropical forests and oceans were all absorbing significantly. However there is some evidence that the natural CO2 sinks are declining in effectiveness; and some models suggest that many current sinks will become net emitters rather than absorbers over the coming decades.

CC013 Emissions by high-flying aircraft cause additional warming effects because of the different nature of the upper atmosphere. These emissions are also not covered by the Kyoto Protocol. The IPCC have produced a special report on the subject. GP policy to address this is in TR500ff.

A.2 Impacts

CC020 The IPCC's Third Assessment Report, published in early 2001, predicts that with business as usual global mean temperature will rise between 1.4°C and 5.8°C during the 21st century. Work with more advanced models carried out subsequently by the UK Meteorological Office's Hadley Research Centre suggests that, again with business as usual, rises of up to 8°C can be expected by 2100.

CC021 The most serious direct effects of climate change are an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, effects of the temperature itself, and rising sea levels. The reinsurance industry has estimated that global damages caused by storms, droughts & floods has roughly doubled each decade since 1950, reaching almost $500 billion in the 90s. Extrapolation of this trend suggests that the annual rate of damages could reach the same magnitude as the annual global GDP by the 2060s.

CC022 Effects on ecosystems, agricultural systems, people and economic systems will be increasingly severe. Many diseases, most notably malaria, are likely to become much more widespread. Rainfall patterns are likely to change drastically, including big seasonal and north/south variations in the UK. Food supplies will become erratic. Low-lying and island states, most notably Bangladesh, will become inundated and lead to at least 10s of millions of eco-refugees.

CC023 Furthermore abrupt changes in climate are quite likely -- they show up frequently in the paleological record. Possibilities forecast by different groups of scientists include the shutting down of the Gulf Stream, a complete dieback of the Amazon rainforest, and a rapid increase of perhaps 5°C due to methane emissions from warming continental shelves. Such jumps are potentially much more damaging to ecosystems and to human societies than more gradual change. Several other positive feedback mechanisms are known which could trigger rapid change, without being understood well enough to be accurately included in climate models. These include the effects of clouds, the changes in carbon absorption of plants under stressed conditions, and the link with a cooling stratosphere and ongoing stratospheric ozone depletion.

CC024 Some scientists believe that a 'runaway' greenhouse effect is possible, leading to temperature increases of several 10s°C over a timescale of 50-200 years and to large parts or even all of the Earth becoming uninhabitable.

B. Objectives

B.1 Preserving the Climate

CC100 The Green Party's primary objective is the safeguarding of the climate, as far as possible, for future decades and generations; or as the UNFCCC puts it, "The avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic change to the climate".

B.2 Targets

CC110 The Green Party calls for the establishment of annual targets for global and national greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and for the establishment of effective enforcement mechanisms.

CC111 The primary aim of such targets is to significantly reduce the likelihood of catastrophic climate change by keeping atmospheric temperature rise below 2°C above preindustrial levels. Climate research at the Swiss ETH Institute has shown that this requires stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at or below 450ppm CO2 equivalent.

B.3 International Negotiations

CC120 The Green Party actively endorses the leading role played by the UN and its subsidiary bodies in striving for the necessary international agreement, global monitoring and implementation of the required policies; and will endeavour to support their ongoing activities.

C. Policies

C.1 Targets

CC200 The Green Party calls for the establishment of a number of targets for global and national greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and for the establishment of effective enforcement mechanisms. All targets herein relate to a baseline of emissions in 1990, as in the Kyoto Protocol.

CC201 On average, each person worldwide emitted about 5 tonnes of CO2 in 2000, of which 4 tonnes came from fossil-fuel burning. There were huge international variations, with the Americans averaging 20 tonnes, British 9, Chinese 2.5 and Africans 1 tonne. Climate research from the Potsdam Institute suggest that average global emissions will need to be reduced by at least 60% of the 1990 baseline by 2030. This equates on average to a 90% reduction in emissions by developed countries by 2030. Following the principle of convergence this requires UK emissions to be cut by 80-90%.

CC202 The UK's commitment under the EU basket agreement reached in conjunction with the Kyoto Protocol is a reduction in the 6-gas basket by 12.5% by 2008-2012 The Blair government has also committed the UK to a 20% reduction in CO2 by then.

CC203 UK emissions in 2005 were just below the 1990 baseline and rising. We should aim steadily to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to 10% of their 1990 levels by 2030. If this policy is adopted in 2007, the required annual rate is 9% per annum. If adoption is delayed, the required rate is significantly greater, rising for the next few years by about 0.5 percentage points for each year of delay in starting. _We will also establish effective mechanisms for getting back on track should an annual target be missed. New and persuasive scientific evidence may arise that shows a need for deeper cuts in emissions and Green party public announcements should reflect the current nature of climate change science.

CC204 Working towards a stringent target will make the UK well- placed to adapt to the tightening of global emissions limits which are likely to occur over the next few decades.

CC205 We oppose quantifying emissions due to land-use changes (mainly afforestation), as they are almost impossible to measure. In any case, adoption of Green Party forestry policy (see Forestry) should lead to net CO2 absorption from land-use changes for several decades.

CC206 Targets should also be set to cover the other Kyoto protocol gases (see CC010) as well as other gases and black soot that are found to directly or indirectly cause global warming. UK targets must include land-use emissions including peat and moorland burning

CC207 Parallel targets should also be set for NOx and water emissions by UK-based aircraft, which are more damaging than ground-based emissions. (see TR501)

CC208 The UN should modify the way the effects of different greenhouse gases are combined to focus on the impacts over a twentyyear time period. Currently 100 years is used and this makes a big difference to the calculated effects of methane, resulting in serious understressing of the importance of methane emissions reductions in the crucial next few decades.

C.2 International Activity

CC210 The Green Party calls for urgent replacement of the Kyoto Protocol with a new protocol which meets the requirement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with prevailing science and which has an equal focus on safeguarding carbon sinks. It is dangerous to wait until the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

CC211 Global concentrations are now increasing at significantly over 2 ppm CO2 each year and have been rising steadily since 1990. This is in part because targets for Annex 1 countries are not based on science, in part because the Protocol has not been ratified by the US and Australia, and in part because it excludes developing economies (notably China and India). It also not only lacks any meaningful ecosystem protection mechanism but actively facilitates ecosystem destruction via its Clean Development Mechanism (see CC240).

CC212 Measures contained in a new climate change agreement must take precedence over any international trade rules. Any international trade agreements, including regional or bilateral agreements must be fully compliant with the new protocol and not the other way around.

C.3 Contraction and Convergence

CC220 The Kyoto Protocol says nothing about the future beyond 2012. To address that timescale the Green Party advocates the adoption by the UNFCCC of a framework of Contraction and Convergence (C&C) as the key ingredient in the global political solution to the problem of Climate Change mitigation, and urges the UK and other governments use it as the basis for negotiations in the international fora.

CC2214 C&C is a scheme to provide for a smooth and equitable transition to a safe level of global CO2 emissions from human activity. It can be adapted either to follow-on from a successful Kyoto Protocol, or can equally be used in case the KP is not brought into force by enough countries ratifying it. C&C is not an alternative to the KP; it is a long-term framework for global cooperation towards a genuine solution; while the KP is a short- term fix that takes only very limited steps forward. A GP policy statement describes C&C in more detail.

CC222 'Contraction', means adopting a scientifically determined safe target concentration level and setting global annual emissions levels which should take the atmosphere to that target. The UNFCCC should agree specific thresholds for unacceptable climate impacts, from which the IPCC should calculate the appropriate concentration level, to be reviewed at 5-yearly intervals.

CC223 'Convergence' means taking the world in an achievable way, both technically and politically, from the present situation to a common level of per-capita emissions in a target year. Under it nations are allocated annual quotas for emissions, which start from current or Kyoto-based levels in year 1 of the agreement and converge to equal per-capita allocations after a negotiated interval, probably of a few decades.

CC224 The C&C package is completed with an emissions-trading mechanism, which should include a percentage cap to limit the proportion of a country's reductions that can be bought rather than achieved domestically. Monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are also required and should be set up by the UNFCCC.

C.4 EU Emmisions trading Scheme

CC230 The current EU emissions trading scheme has two primary flaws; it not based on equal rights to the atmosphere, nor on global greenhouse-gas stabilisation targets. As a result the highest polluters are rewarded with the greatest allocation of emission permits, full carbon life-cycle emissions are not assessed and no attempt is made to correlate with global stabilisation targets. It needs complete restructuring in line with Contraction and Convergence principles.

C.5 The Clean Development Mechanism

CC240 The Clean Development Mechanism which allows credits for GHG emission reductions in Non-Annex 1 (developing) countries has become particularly damaging through its support for monoculture tree plantations in developing countries, called 'Green Deserts' by many local NGOs, and for bio-energy crop plantations. No CDM credits must be given for agro-forestry sectors linked to deforestation, peat drainage, biodiversity loss, human rights abuses or evictions. Low biodiversity tree plantations (as opposed to old growth forests and other original ecosystems) should not qualify as carbon sinks as they are generally not considered to be ecologically self-sustaining; new tree growth will not necessarily replace low diversity plantation trees at the end of their lifespan.

C.6 Biofuels

CC250 It is particularly alarming that nations are trying to meet the requirements of the KyotoProtocol by using bio-energy classed as 'carbon neutral' despite large-scale greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and peat burning. By doing so, Annex 1 nations are simply exporting greenhouse gas emissions to the developing world and, in doing so, are contributing to greater emissions overall. There is a limited role for sustainable bio-energy, but this must not lead to an increase in monocultures or in the area of the planet under agriculture. There is growing opposition in many countries of the South to large-scale bio-fuel plantations grown to serve the OECD markets, and we support the local communities and NGOs resisting those developments. Within Europe and the UK we call for a suspension of all bio-energy targets and obligations until clear environmental and human rights standards for bio-fuel production accompany such targets. An import ban should also be imposed on products linked, directly or indirectly to deforestation and other negative social and environmental impacts.

CC251 In line with party policy on applying the precautionary principle, the Green Party calls for an immediate moratorium on agrofuels from largescale monocultures - a period for scientists and policy makers in the EU and western nations to gain a greater understanding of the true impacts on the social, human rights, land rights, climate impact, and biodiversity impact issues. The Green Party supports the Agrofuels Moratorium Call launched in July 2007 in Brussels (supported by over 100 organisations in its first week). Agrofuels is the term coined to describe liquid fuels from biomass, which consist of crops and trees grown specifically for that purpose on a large-scale.

CC252 The majority of biofuels are made from large-scale monocultures of oil palms, sugar cane, soya, maize, sugar beet, oilseed rape and jatropha. They contribute substantially more to to greenhouse gas emissions by nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser use and by land conversion than are saved by burning slightly less fossil fuels. As such agrofuels are set to significantly accelerate climate change. Other problems include biodiversitylosses, water and soil degradation, human rights abuses (including the impoverishment and dispossession of local populations) and the loss of food sovereignty and food security. The impacts seen today result from a less than 1% market penetration of biofuels in Europe yet the EU target is 10% by 2020 and the UK are aiming for 5% by 2010. The European demand for biofuels is pushing up commodity prices and thus encouraging multi- billion dollar investment in infrastructure and refineries linked to largescale deforestation. The impacts of this investment could be irreversible and will open up tens of millions of hectares of virgin forest to land conversion and logging. An immediate moratorium is the only way to put the brakes on such disastrous investment decisions.

CC253 The moratorium would apply to European and British public sector incentives for agrofuels and agroenergy from large-scale monocultures, including tree plantations, and a moratorium on EU imports of such agrofuels. This includes the immediate suspension of all targets, incentives such as tax breaks and subsidies which benefit agrofuels from large-scale monocultures, including financing through carbon trading mechanisms, international development aid or loans from international finance organisations such as the World Bank. The moratorium called for by the signatories will apply only to agrofuels from large-scale monocultures (and GM biofuels) and their trade. It doesnot include biofuels from waste, such as waste vegetable oil or biogas from manure or sewage, or biomass grown and harvested sustainably by and for the benefit of local communities, rather than on large- scale monocultures.

CC254 The Green Party also calls for a moratorium on the use and development of genetically engineered crops and trees, microbes and fungi for the production of any biofuels including agrofuels, due to the high environmental risks involved in GM technology.

C.7 Rainforests

CC260 Deforestation accounts for several billion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, and this figure is rising. Scientists are worried that deforestation has pushed the Amazon close to a tipping point beyond which it may no longer be able to sustain its rainfall cycle and could progressively turn into savannah and even desert, vastly accelerating global warming. Emergency action is needed to implement a global moratorium on logging and burning of old growth forests; while ecological restoration must be funded to restore ancient forests which have been degraded or destroyed. The industrialised nations and multinational companies have profited the most from the cheap timber and pulp, cattle feed, meat and other food imports which result from global deforestation, and must therefore pay the cost of implementing a logging and land conversion moratorium. Trade rules must be changed to ban the international trade in products produced at the expense of old- growth forests.

CC261 The Green Party calls for an emergency international agreement to stop global deforestation. This must be developed as a priority and implemented in full consultation with the local and indigenous communities recognising traditional land rights. This must be made an integral part of existing and future climate change frameworks and the EU and UK must begin to work towards these aims now, not delay action until adopted by the UN.

C.8 Peatlands

CC270 The Green Party calls for an emergency international agreement to stop swamp draining and burning of peatland. Such a convention needs to include measures to extinguish fires, re-flood and restore drained peatlands and needs to be linked to a revision of the Clean Development Mechanism in Europe and the broader climate change framework. (see also CC240).

CC271 To achieve the necessary emissions reductions (see section C1) a new protocol will have to make ecosystem destruction and degradation a priority focus. Simply reducing the rate of deforestation will not be sufficient. Only a moratorium followed by a ban on industrial logging and land conversion of all old growth forest will allow us to achieve this goal; see section C7 . Such a ban should be binding on all nations, including nations which currently import wood products or agricultural commodities produced at the expense of old growth forests and ecosystems.

CC272 The Green Party considers the use of market-based mechanisms as an alternative to a moratorium to be wholly inadequate. Commodifying nature and including it in emissions trading is unlikely to slow ecosystem degradation and may even accelerate it. Further, market mechanisms are likely to increase social and economic injustice and to dispossess indigenous and local communities who have a vested interest in protecting forests and other ecosystems, and are most capable of doing so.

CC273 Ecological restoration must be an essential part of a climate change agreement, in order to reverse some of the damage done to ecosystems and to strengthen their ability to survive the now unavoidable levels of global warming. Ecosystem restoration must be based on scientific evidence and must be implemented in ways which are socially just and respect the rights and needs of local communities. Priorities for ecological restoration would include the reflooding of peatlands, particularly the peatlands of South-east Asia which have been drained for monoculture plantations, the protection of selectively logged or 'degraded' primary forests from land-conversion and further industrial logging, and measures to reduce the fragmentation of essential ecosystems by monoculture plantations. Biodiversity will be a key measure of the success of ecological restoration.

CC274 Sufficient funding for ecosystem protection and ecological restoration must be made available through the North-South transfer of funding which is an essential component of Contraction and Convergence. Funding will be required for enforcement of logging and land conversion bans, for fire protection and forcommunity forestry and social incentives, including education, public awareness raising and fostering the traditional values systems of indigenous peoples and local communities, measures shown to be effective for ensuring forest protection.

CC275 A new climate change agreement must include clear mechanisms to reverse the trend towards low-biodiversity, high-chemical input monocultures, and to support mixed high biodiversity agricultural systems based on permaculture principles which retain soil carbon. This necessitates regulatory and rightsbased mechanisms, supporting the land rights of small farmers and local communities and regulating against those agribusinesses which rely on destructive agricultural methods that result in ecosystem destruction and high greenhouse gas emissions.

C9. Livestock Farming

CC280 The substantial contribution of livestock farming to greenhouse gas emissions (see AG206, AG102, CC208) makes it evident that, to achieve our climate objectives and emissions targets, such farming will need to be drastically and rapidly reduced.

CC281 A reduction in livestock farming will have implications for land use, agriculture and human diets. Our policies for sustainable agriculture (see Agriculture chapter as well as EU542, EC952, CY524, EN508, FD302) will achieve a transition away from the production of animal products towards production for predominantly plant-based diets and bring other opportunities for farmers to diversify. The Green Party will manage this transition sensitively, so as well as reducing direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, it will bring benefits for farmers, consumers, the environment and animal welfare (see AR403).

C.10 Emissions Reductions in the UK

CC290 The principles of C&C would also provide the basis for reductions in emissions within the UK, through the introduction of a system of tradable quotas. This system should cover all emissions of carbon dioxide produced by burning of fossil fuels in the UK. On introduction of the system the total carbon quota would be equivalent to current emission levels, but would reduce year-on- year to meet the targets set out in section C1. Carbon quota would be needed for all purchases of electricity (if not from a renewable source), air flights and direct purchase of fossil fuels including gas, coal, petrol, diesel and fuel oil. Consideration would be given to also including long distance train travel. A system for buying and selling quotas would be established.

CC291 A proportion of the total quota would be distributed free of charge to all eligible individuals in the UK, with all adults receiving an equal amount. The remaining quota would be sold to organisations (public, private and voluntary) by a system set up by the government.

CC292 In addition to the introduction of quotas there would be a major programme of investment in energy conservation, energy efficient appliances, public transport and renewable energy technology, so that people are able to live within their quotas. This investment would be achieved through a programme of public spending and through the revision of technical standards, such as building regulations and standards for energy efficiency of appliances. The details of these measures are set out elsewhere in the PSS. See in particular:

  • AG206 (Agriculture)
  • EC786 (UK Taxation).
  • EC921 (International Economic Management)
  • EN500-511 (Energy Conservation)
  • EN800-816 (Renewables)
  • EU521-2 (Transport within the EU)
  • F202 (Forestry)
  • HO501-2 & 605 (House Building Standards)
  • LP403 (Building Location)
  • LP500-504 (Conservation in Buildings)
  • TR010 (Transport - Aims)
  • TR040-049 (Renewable Fuels)
  • TR063-066 (Charges and Taxes)
  • TR100-102 (School Transport)
  • TR200 (Public Transport)
  • TR300 (Personal motorised transport)
  • TR330 (Freight)
  • TR430-1 (Shipping)
  • TR500-3 & 550 (Air Transport)

CC293 Government should institute a national publicity campaign on the threats from climate change, the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other green house gases, and how individuals can play their part in this.

CC294 We will publicise the various ways in which measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can provide immediate benefits to our quality of life, our economy and the environment, as well as delivering long-term benefits by tackling Climate Change.

 

Climate Change last updated Spring 2008

 

The following additional policy statements can be found in the Green Party Record of Policy Statements (RoPS) for Climate Change available on the Members webiste:

  • Contraction and Convergence (September 1998. Amended January 2002)
  • Global Climate Policy - the Kyoto Protocol and "flexibility mechanisms" (Autumn 1998. Amended January 2002)
  • Mozambique Floods, Greenhouse Warming, Responsibility and Compensation (Spring 2000)
  • Climate Change (Autumn 2003)
  • Air Traffic Emissions Reduction Bill (Autumn 2004)
  • The Climate Change Challenge (Autumn 2004)
  • International demonstrations to demand that USA and Australia ratify Kyoto (Spring 2005)
  • Conservative Party Filibustering on Climate Change (Spring 2006)
  • Radical Climate Action (Autumn 2006)
  • Restricting Fossil Fuel Production (Spring 2008)
  • Geo-engineering (Spring 2009)