Anger over missed climate change target

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The Independent Online

Environmental campaigners today attacked the Government's "pathetic" plans to tackle climate change after ministers appeared to abandon a key target on cutting carbon emissions.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) conceded that the UK was unlikely to meet its pledge to cut carbon emissions to 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2010.

It now expects to bring levels only to within 15 per cent to 18 per cent of the 1990 figure by 2010, and blamed the change on factors including high economic growth and the rise in global energy prices.

The apparent change in target came with the publication of the Government's new Climate Change Programme which sets out how it plans to tackle the issue over the coming years.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said the programme - which follows a review of existing plans - was "ambitious" and contained " far-reaching" measures to cut emissions.

But pressure group Friends of the Earth accused ministers of lacking the "political will" to tackle climate change and said they were caving in to short-term considerations.

A Friends of the Earth spokesman said the 20 per cent target had been in all three Labour general election manifestos.

But he added that emissions had risen by 3 per cent since 1997 while latest figures showed that they were currently only around 5 per cent below 1990 levels.

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said: "Tough action is needed to tackle climate change.

"But once again the Government has caved in to short-term political pressures and produced a totally inadequate response.

"This pathetic strategy will not deliver the Government's promise to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010, and will further undermine the Prime Minister's reputation on this issue."

Mr Juniper called for a new law making the Government legally responsible for annual cuts in carbon dioxide.

"The solutions exist, but the Government clearly lacks the political will to use them," he said.

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said the review was "a grim admission of failure on what was meant to be one of Mr Blair's top priorities".

He added: "Worse still, it fails to chart a course which will get us back on track. The Government's efforts to tackle climate change remain piecemeal, timid and half-hearted.

"This was an opportunity for Labour to show how they intend to lead the world, and they have missed it. Instead we get fudge and a photocall. There is nothing new in this review, just a series of recycled announcements. Ironically there is nothing on recycling itself."

Mr Ainsworth accused Government departments of "squabbling as emissions continue to rise".

And he called once more for Labour to join the common front which the Tories have formed with the Liberal Democrats and other opposition parties on climate change.

"They have demonstrated that they are incapable of finding solutions on their own," he said. "The scale and urgency of the challenge demands that we must all work together to develop robust, clear, and radical policies which will stand the test of time."

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said: "It is nonsense to claim that Britain is doing better than any other government.

"The Government has failed to meet the goals it set itself, and is also failing by comparison with more enlightened foreign governments.

"Even the modest progress made on the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases is largely an accidental result of the switch from coal to gas-powered electricity generation, and has nothing to do with Government policy.

"This is an appalling record. The steady rise in carbon emissions since 2000, when the Government capitulated to the fuel protesters, is now coming home to roost.

"Green taxes have been falling in real terms since then with the predictable results that we see today."

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the programme builds on the UK's position leading the world in promoting global action on climate change, setting out policies and priorities for action in the UK and internationally.

The moves to reduce emissions focus on:

* A stricter emissions cap for industry;

* Measures to encourage the uptake of biofuels in petrol;

* Tighter building regulations;

* Measures to improve household energy efficiency;

* A renewed emphasis on encouraging and enabling the general public, businesses and public authorities to help achieve the Government's targets;

* Increased levels of microgeneration.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "This ambitious programme sets out our plans for tackling climate change at global, national and individual level.

"All three are essential. Climate change is a global problem that needs global solutions.

"But we must act now to meet our commitments. This programme contains a package of far-reaching measures that will affect all the major sectors and sources of UK emissions.

"But it is not the last word. There is more that Government can and will do to meet the target.

"Further contributions could be made by the Energy Review, a review of measures to improve the sustainability of existing building and other policies over the coming years."

The programme is expected to reduce the UK's emissions of greenhouse gases to 23 per cent to 25 per cent below base levels and reduce the UK's carbon dioxide emissions to 15 per cent to 18 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010.

The new policies in the programme will reduce carbon emissions by some 7 to 12 megatons by 2010.

The Government said this takes it close to its domestic target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2010. Higher-than-anticipated levels of economic growth and the recent rises in global energy prices which have altered the relative prices of coal and gas have led to increased emissions and made the target more challenging.

The review addresses this.

Progress will be assessed more regularly and frequently. From next year the Government will report annually to Parliament on progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and its future work programme. It will also build on this and consider other aspects of recent proposals for the introduction of "carbon budgeting".

The Government announced the draft National Allocation Plan for the second phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

This works on a "cap and trade" basis. Industry is allocated emissions "allowances" equivalent to a ton of carbon dioxide, which can be traded. This encourages companies which can reduce emissions to do so cheaply and sell their unused allowances.

The draft plan for the second phase of the scheme is published today. It will save between 3 and 8 megatons of carbon in 2010 (11 to 29 megatons of CO 2) depending on the final figures for the total quantity of allowances.

* Business measures - The Climate Change Levy of companies will increase in line with inflation with effect from April 1, 2007.

The Carbon Trust's scheme for small and medium businesses will receive an additional £5 million funding to allow for a significant expansion. This comes on top of the £15 million of funding announced by the Chancellor in his 2005 Pre-Budget Report.

* Household and personal actions - Over the next two years £20 million will finance a major new initiative to strengthen consumer demand for energy efficiency, as announced in last week's Budget.

This will work closely with energy suppliers, local authorities and others to promote and incentivise energy efficiency measures in households. These measures, such as loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and condensing boilers, will save an additional 0.3 to 0.6 megatons of carbon in 2010 (1 to 2 megatons of CO 2).

Energy suppliers will carry out an extra 250,000 subsidised installations of home insulation over the next two years, saving 35,000 tons of carbon and reducing annual bills by around £20 million.

There will also be a pilot scheme for the use of "smart meters" to enable consumers to monitor their energy use and what measures are effective in reducing it, co-financed with energy companies.

Working in partnership with major retailers and the Energy Saving Trust, voluntary schemes will be introduced in the retail sector to encourage the purchase of more energy efficient consumer electronics.

Better product design will also be encouraged to tackle problems such as excessive energy use during "stand-by" mode in computers, televisions, lighting and other products. These smaller appliances emit 1 megaton of carbon a year when on stand-by, costing each household around £25 a year.

There will be continued support for the activities of the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and the Climate Change Communications initiative to raise awareness about climate change and the action individuals can take to help tackle it.

The Government said it is committed to leading by example in the way it manages sustainably its land and buildings. New strategic, stretching and outcome focused targets will be published later this summer for the sustainable management of the Government Estate. Targets will be introduced for climate change and energy.

The Government announced measures affecting the building, household, public and local government sectors including:

* A new planning policy statement setting out how the Government expects participants in the planning process to work towards the reduction of carbon emissions in the location, siting and design of new development with the creation of exemplar sustainable settlements in growth areas, beginning with Northstowe in Cambridgeshire, with 10,000 new homes built to very high environmental standards with quality local services to promote sustainable living;

* Updated Building Regulations coming into force next month to further raise the energy standards of new and refurbished buildings and help to improve compliance. Taking into account the changes in 2002 and 2005, there will be a 40 per cent improvement in energy efficiency standards for new buildings and the opportunity for householders moving into new homes to see a similar cut in the size of their fuel bills, saving 0.4 megatons of carbon (1.3 megatons of CO2);

* The introduction of a Code for Sustainable Homes, which presents the opportunity to achieve higher standards for energy and water efficiency and will provide clear information and advice for house buyers and tenants on the sustainability of the homes they are planning to buy or rent;

* The introduction of Energy Performance Certificates for all buildings when they are constructed, sold or rented out to provide clear information on energy efficiency and advice on improvements;

* Consideration of how to ensure that the local government performance framework will include an appropriate focus on action on climate change, sufficient to incentivise more authorities to reach the levels of the best;

* Setting up a new revolving loan fund of £20 million for the public sector to invest in energy efficiency;

* A new £4 million local government best practice support programme to be launched in 2006-7, which will aim to proactively benchmark the performance of local authorities on climate change and sustainable energy, and target those who need the most help to raise their performance;

* A review of measures to improve the sustainability of existing buildings to identify the role of possible further incentives, voluntary initiatives and regulations will be completed later this summer;

* Continued action to upgrade the energy efficiency of social and rented homes and those in fuel poverty through the Warm Front and Decent Homes programmes;

* New advice to stimulate the early replacement of inefficient boilers by those meeting tough standards in building regulations.