Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mili's silly target trouble

When in Nairobi on the recent round of climate talks to try and start the ball rolling on the replacement for the Kyoto protocol, South Shields MP and Environment Secretary David Miliband dismissed annual targets for reducing carbon emissions as 'silly'. His conclusion is worth exploring, or exploding.

"I don't think that binding annual targets are necessary."

For a government addicted to targets, his is an odd assessment. We have targets for health, crime, education and a host of other areas. But these are seen as a necessary motivational tool in order to gain improvements. Why not annual carbon targets?

"We think binding annual targets are silly"

It's interesting who this 'we' is, but I doubt it includes just about every successful company on the planet which has an annual business plan with - guess what - targets. Even the management-speak acronyms have the elements of goal orientation - Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-bound, or better, Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-bound, Ethical, Recorded. I think I'd rather be SMARTER annually about climate change than silly over 5 years.

"because if the weather is bad in one year it doesn't make sense to change your policies."

Now that is a silly statement. If you fail to reach your target one year, it makes perfect sense to adjust your initiatives and targets to do better the next year. Flexibility is key, and having annual targets doesn't preclude flexible plans. Besides, if we don't do something about our emissions now, we are guaranteeing ourselves and our children plenty of bad weather in the future.

"You don't just have to take my word for it - the international community at Kyoto in 1997 didn't think annual targets were sensible."

This justification is predicated on the assumption that the Kyoto protocol is perfect. It isn't - it has serious flaws. The cuts of only 4.8% of greenhouse gas emissions based on 1990 by 2012 are dangerously pathetic, it ushered in the fallacy of offsetting, and excluded air travel from the CO2 emissions measuring mechanism. The Kyoto Protocol was based partly upon the climate change science available at the time. We now know a lot more, and that we have underestimated the scale and speed of climate change. Instead of centuries, we are looking at decades. We could have as little as 25 years to drop our emissions by 90 percent. In such short timescales, 5 years is too long.

The whole point of Mr Miliband's visit to Nairobi was to try and get a Kyoto replacement off the ground. I would expect him and the other delegates to learn from Kyoto's flaws - and a lack of challenging targets was definitely one of them.

If we don't have annual targets, government will have no real impetus to take the drastic action needed on climate change. We haven't had challenging climate targets, and what have we seen? An increase in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions since the Kyoto agreement. Not having annual targets means the government can leave the worry about emissions reductions to the next year, or the next government, or even the next decade. But by then it will be too late.

Targets work. They mean business. They provide motivation to get things done. In dismissing targets Mr Miliband is arguing for complacency and low expectations.

Winners have targets. Leave the silly loser talk to others Mr Miliband, and try being a true champion of emissions reduction - with annual targets.

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