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climate change > newsfile > britain to miss targets on cutting greenhouse gases

Britain to miss targets on cutting greenhouse gases

Posted: 09 Dec 2004

by Michael McCarthy

Britain looks likely to miss a key target in the fight against global warming by a wide margin, the Government was forced to admit yesterday.

In an announcement which does nothing for his credibility as a self-proclaimed world leader on the climate-change issue, Tony Blair disclosed that forthcoming British cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide (C02), the principal greenhouse gas, would fall well short of the amount promised by Labour in opposition and in office.

With the liberalisation of the energy market, suppliers can buy their energy from wherever they want - invariably the cheapest source. As global demand for gas has forced the gas price up, generators have been switching back to burning coal - which is cheaper, but produces more CO2.

The uptake of energy-efficient cars in Britain has been far less than was hoped, not least because of the stubborn fad for gas-guzzling four-wheel drive vehicles. The boom in cheap air travel has contributed to growing CO2 emissions from aircraft.

More and more people have more and more power-eating electronic devices in their homes, from DVD players to broadband internet connections. And the number of single-person households is soaring - all with domestic appliances.

By 2010, he said, the UK would achieve only a 14 per cent cut in emissions of CO2 from 1990 levels. This compares with a planned reduction of 20 per cent set in 1994 by the Labour Party, which has since appeared in its election manifestos.

Britain is on course to meet its official, legally binding, target under the Kyoto protocol, the international climate treaty, of cutting emissions of six greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent by 2010; but the more ambitious target it set itself looks doubtful.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, asked Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday: "How do you expect the British public to have faith in your ambition to lead the industrialised world, including President Bush, in tackling the climate change issue successfully?" He said Mr Blair "talked a good game" but was failing to deliver.

Tony Juniper, the executive director of Friends of the Earth, said the Government had to make significant cuts in UK C02 emissions if Mr Blair really wanted to lead the world on climate change. "Replacing old, inefficient coal-powered stations with cleaner alternatives, introducing economic incentives to encourage energy efficiency and encouraging less polluting transport options are desperately needed measures," he said. "Unless radical action is taken, we will all pay the price." Mr Blair insisted that urgent measures were being taken to try to make up lost ground, and he did not accept the target could not be met.

He said the country should be "proud" to be one of the few in the world to meet its international climate change obligations under the Kyoto Treaty.

"We set a target of 20 per cent; we are on track to get to 14 per cent. We have years to go before we have to meet that target. We do not accept we won't meet it," he said. "We've got more to do, but we are taking the measures necessary to do it."

Yesterday, a full-scale review of the UK climate change programme, the measures first set out in 2000 to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, was initiated by the Government.

Michael McCarthy is environment editor for The Independent.

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