Tony Blair today conceded that Britain is likely to miss its self-imposed target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but insisted it would still meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol.
Labour is committed to a pledge, made in two successive manifestos, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 to 20% below 1990 levels. But during prime minister’s questions, Mr Blair said that current projections point only to a 14% reduction.
Under Kyoto, the UK is legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
Mr Blair, however, said there were still some years to go before Britain has to meet the 20% target. “We do not accept that we won’t meet it,” he told Charles Kennedy, prompting the Liberal Democrat leader to respond: “You talk a very good game, you persuade yourself, but you fail to deliver.”
The prime minister was speaking ahead of today’s publication of a review of the government’s climate change programme, which was launched in 2000. It is expected to show that emissions of carbon dioxide currently stand at only 7.5% below the 1990 baseline – the same as when Labour came to power in 1997.
Mr Blair has said he wants climate change to be the priority for Britain’s presidencies of the G8 and European Union next year. But his admission echoed an earlier concession by his environment secretary that “we are not doing as well as we hoped” on the issue.
Margaret Beckett told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have set ourselves pretty high targets. Actually we are well ahead of our main legal commitment, but we set ourselves more ambitious targets and we have to do more to try to reach them.”
Growth in exhaust fumes from road traffic is thought to be largely to blame for the failure to cut emissions as fast as was hoped.
Mrs Beckett said: “We are today publishing the review exactly because we recognise we are not doing as well as we had hoped and we want to do more.” She stated that she was happy for people to keep up the pressure on the government because “all of us have to do more”.
Friends of the Earth has called for new policies to give incentives for the power sector and industry to make large cuts in emissions through investment in new technologies. It is also urging tough financial penalties for gas-guzzling vehicles, extra duty on road fuels and taxes on aviation.
Tony Juniper, a director of the pressure group, said: “Time is running out. If the climate change programme fails to make significant cuts in UK greenhouse gas emissions, the prime minister’s ability to persuade other countries to take the issue seriously will be totally undermined.”
The Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Norman Baker, said: “Tony Blair cannot expect the public and businesses to take the environment seriously when his own government departments have shown such disregard for the issue.
“Mr Blair’s record on climate change shows that he will always take the side of the polluter over the environment. He has consistently pulled the green carpet from under Margaret Beckett’s feet to appease the smoke-stack DTI.”