A week is a long time in politics, and it now also seems to be a long time in the area of climate change policy. Anyone who has been following the news closely over the last week might think that we’re losing the battle, despite my comments just a week ago. Here’s some of the bad news:
• The election of a Republican as Massachusetts senator (after more than 30 years of Democrats) is not only significant because of the change in political climate, it also means that the Democrats no longer have a commanding hold on the Senate. Since support for climate change action is pretty much split down party lines, it doesn’t auger well for environmental legislation, which still has a long way to go to reach the statute books.
• A (Republican) senator from Alaska has said she is considering using an obscure process (a ‘resolution of disapproval’) to prevent any US administration (now or in the future) from using the EPA to control emissions and hence climate change. (The EPA only recently declared greenhouse gasses to be pollutants, allowing potential ‘backdoor’ legislation to prevent emissions).
• In addition, the US Small Business Administration is arguing that the EPA did not consult a a panel of small businesses to review proposed legislation to prevent CO2 pollution, as required by federal law.
• A group of European manufacturing companies under the name of The Alliance for a Competitive European Industry (ACEI), sent a letter to the European Council, European Parliament and European Commissions, saying that they were opposed to any commitment to reduce emissions by more than 20%. The EU’s stand is to reduce emissions by 20% (on 1990 levels) by 2020 and to increase the target to 30% if there are similar commitments from other developed countries. That now seems unlikely.
On the up side:
• France is moving towards imposing a carbon tax on large industrial installations until 2013, at which time emission permits under the revised EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) will kick in. It follows the failure of the previous proposal, which was thrown out by the courts on the grounds that it would impose an unfair burden on consumers. The tax would not have been applied to 93% of industrial carbon emissions, with more than 1,000 of France's biggest polluters avoiding it.
• In an open letter to European Commission president, the EU Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change called for the EU to submit an ambitious EU GHG reduction plan by the 31st January deadline (as agreed at Copenhagen). The letter called for the EU to stick with the 30% by 2020 ‘in tandem with similar commitments by other developed countries’. The EU was expected to revert to the 20% target (see above). There were 20 signatories, including Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia and Vodafone, but IT companies are conspicuous by their absence.
What does it mean? Well for the last 12-18 months it has looked like 2010 would be the year that green ICT would really take off. What with the Copenhagen conference and a new US administration introducing its own legislation, the pressure to manage emissions seemed likely to reach boiling point this year. But whilst growth in the market will remain very high (compared with almost every other aspect of ICT) it’s not going to be the boom time that many (including me) expected.
It’s likely to be a long struggle to get a global commitment on emissions reduction targets and much will depend on what happens in the US. It now seems that corporate stakeholders – customers, shareholders and employees – will continue be the ones creating the pressure for companies to conform. The most enlightened corporations will also join the calls for action, which is why it’s disappointing not to see more ICT players lobbying for climate change legislation – particularly since most will benefit from it.