Britain claimed a global first Tuesday when it unveiled a much-vaunted climate-change law that would fix targets for cutting carbon-dioxide emissions, set up an expert panel to scrutinize progress, and establish carbon "budgets" to instill discipline in the same way that treasury budgets do.
The bill, still some months away from becoming law, would erect a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 32 percent by 2020 and by 60 percent by 2050. Failure to abide by the law would leave governments exposed to political humiliation and possibly court action in the form of judicial review.
"The draft climate-change bill is the first of its kind in any country," said environment secretary David Miliband. "With climate change, we can't just close our eyes and cross our fingers. We need to step up our action to tackle it."
Environmentalists broadly welcomed the move and said that it would set a positive example of concrete action to tackle climate change to the rest of the world.
But scientists warned that the new-found political vigor may not be enough to keep global temperature rises in check and thus prevent environmental, social, and economic havoc.
"It may be the most significant step from any country across the globe, but from a scientific perspective, it still falls short of what is needed to control climate change," says Prof. Kevin Anderson, a scientist with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, a leading British global-warming think tank.
Katie Elliott, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, says the bill was an exciting moment. "Climate change will now have to be considered in all policy decisions," Ms. Elliott says. "But there are a few questions that still need to be answered, such as if this is commensurate with the scale of the threat. The latest science says that probably it isn't."
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