As US neglects its duty, UK leads fight against climate change

As US neglects its duty, UK leads fight against climate change
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The United Kingdom is to become the first major economy to create a legal target for ending its contribution to global warming by effectively eliminating its emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The move highlights how quickly the United States is falling behind in the global transition to clean, smart and modern economies.

The Labour Party government introduced the Climate Change Act in 2008, and it was passed by U.K. Parliament almost unanimously. It committed the U.K. to reducing annual emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 80 percent by 2050 compared with 1990. 


Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayWill Ocasio-Cortez challenge Biden or Harris in 2024? The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Money talks: Why China is beating America in Asia MORE, the current Conservative Party prime minister, recently announced the strengthening of the act, stating: “Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.” 

The U.K. has already cut its annual emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by almost 44 percent since 1990, during a period when its gross domestic product has grown by about 75 percent.

The new legislation is expected to receive parliamentary approval quickly, with the support of all the major political parties in the U.K. 

There is widespread support for action on climate change among British businesses and the public, particularly after recent strikes by school students and public protests by the Extinction Rebellion campaign group.

Recent opinion polls show that 80 percent of the U.K. public are fairly or very concerned about climate change.

The government put forward the new legislation after receiving detailed recommendations last month from its expert advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, about how the U.K. should respond to the Paris Agreement on climate change.


The committee’s report concluded:

A net-zero GHG [greenhouse gas] target for 2050 will deliver on the commitment that the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990.

Net-zero means that emissions will be cut to a minimal level and any residual amounts would be balanced by the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere naturally, for instance by planting new trees, or artificially.

The committee estimated that meeting the new target will require additional investments equivalent to 1-2 percent of gross domestic product each year until 2050. 

Economists have pointed out that the returns are likely to be even bigger than the investments when the avoided impacts of climate change and other benefits, such as reductions in local air pollution, are taken into account. 

The U.K. is the second country to introduce a legal target for reaching net-zero emissions, after Sweden. Several other countries, including France and New Zealand, are currently planning similar laws. 

Prime Minister May, who resigned as leader of the Conservative Party on June 7 and is due to step down as Prime Minister as soon as a successor has been elected by party members, is creating a strong legacy through her actions. 

Her domestic and international leadership on climate change stands in stark contrast with President TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE’s policy of denial and inaction.

May has listened carefully to the robust advice of the independent experts on the Committee on Climate Change, whereas Trump has rejected the findings of the United States National Climate Assessment.

May was urged by 250 climate change experts to challenge the president during his official state visit to the U.K. earlier this month about his approach on climate change.

She restated her government’s support for the Paris Agreement during her joint press conference with the president, but he did not address the issue. 

In a television interview shortly afterward, Trump showed a fundamental lack of knowledge about climate change, bizarrely claiming that “now it’s actually called ‘extreme weather.’”

He also wrongly asserted that “the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics.” In fact, the United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China.

The United States has annual emissions that are 14-times higher than those of the United Kingdom, whose population is only five-times smaller. 

The Energy Information Administration has estimated that the output of energy-related carbon dioxide by the United States started to rise last year after falling significantly during President Obama’s period in office.

Trump has also initiated the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, a process that cannot be completed until the day after the presidential election next year, inaccurately suggesting that it would save the coal industry in the United States. 

Trump cited a profoundly flawed economic report, which included a hugely inflated estimate of the costs of the United States meeting the modest commitment made by the Obama administration to reduce annual emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025 compared with 2005.

Despite Trump’s pledge, coal production in the United States last year was at its lowest level since 1978 because electricity can be generated more cheaply across most of the country using natural gas or renewables, such as solar and wind. 

Trump’s climate change denial is clearly damaging the standing of the United States around the world and hindering its economy from becoming clean, modern and efficient.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.