Mark Sinclair's Blog: 27 November 2009 - Losing the climate battle
27 November 2009
Mark Sinclair is boss of leasing firm Alphabet
Any way you look at it, the majority of the UK's real carbon reduction activity is taking place in the transport arena, with fleet users in the forefront of the action.
But an influential body, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, is now asking whether the UK has lost the climate battle before it has even begun.
Having double-checked the Government's blueprints and run a micrometer over the outside pipework of the 2008 Climate Change Act, the IME forecast last week that the UK will miss its CO2 target by about half a century.
The measures proposed by the Act won't come close to the Government's target of cutting emissions by 34% in 2020 or 80% in 2050, says the IME. In fact, the official plans are simply fanciful, say the engineers. Britain would need to build 30 new nuclear power stations by 2015 simply to get to the starting line.
You can tell from the IME's report, which you can download here, that the engineers are not wholly unhappy with this prospect. Their forecast of failure for the Climate Change Act means lots more work for engineers in the coming decades, whether it will be flood proofing power stations or designing forests of synthetic trees to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere so that it can be sequestered in huge underground caverns.
But, despite its tough message, the IME report made surprisingly few waves where it counts. The Government, which has always been quick to reward our industry's cooperativeness on the climate agenda by imposing more carbon taxes on fleets, was notably backward in coming forward to defend the Act.
With public attitudes to climate science apparently entering a cool phase, and an election just over the horizon, politicians seem to want to keep the subject at arm's length.
We'll find out in the Pre Budget Report on 9 December whether the Chancellor intends to raise fuel or fleet taxes next year. My guess is that he will avoid or postpone any increases if at all possible while once again holding out the possibility of road charging - which is surely the 21st century equivalent of a window tax, designed to make people pay for something they can't avoid doing - to help plug the vast and growing gap in the Government's finances.
Faced with the near certainty of higher taxes, imposed on the pretext of climate targets that experts say are impossible to meet, fleets may be tempted to ask 'why bother?' when it comes to selecting lower carbon vehicles.
But remember that climate change is only one aspect of the carbon issue. The other is 'energy security' - that euphemism for the fact that a small handful of OPEC producers now have absolute control over the flow of the oil that 95% of transportation depends on.
Over the next few years, the UK is likely to face a choice at some stage: either let fuel prices rise to the level set by OPEC or impose fuel rationing. Saudi Arabia is said to need at least $65 per barrel simply to meet its social obligations towards a rapidly growing population. Whenever Sterling or the dollar weakens, that price will go up for British businesses and motorists.
Do you have an energy security policy for your own fleet? Climate change is not the only elephant in the room and fleets that keep a close eye on fuel costs and vehicle policy today will reap the rewards of doing so in the next few years.