Blair pledges £100m for environment

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair today pledged £100m to make Britain 'greener' in a major move supported by environmental groups but attacked by political rivals.

Tony Blair today pledged £100m to make Britain 'greener' in a major move supported by environmental groups but attacked by political rivals.

He said consumers, businesses, scientists, environmentalists and the Government must work together.

In a major speech to the Confederation of British Industry, he insisted financial prosperity and green issues were not enemies and could compliment each other.

The Prime Minister said: "We get richer by being greener and by being greener we will enrich the quality of our lives.

"I want to invite environmentalists and business to join me and push Green issues back up the political agenda - re-awaken the challenge - and I want to do it in constructive partnership government, business, the Green movement and the public.

"A partnership not where we always agree, that would be an impossible demand, but where we have at least some common aims and understanding of each other's necessary contributions to them."

And he added: "We should proceed according to science and a set of common values. We should build a business case for the environment, working to harness clean technologies, seeing business as part of the answer rather than the problem.

"We should acknowledge that technology alone will not fix things and that there has to be a framework set by Government, within which business works."

But his speech was attacked by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Tory leader William Hague said Government policy was "all talk, no action".

He said the real test of Mr Blair's credentials came on issues such as protection of greenfield sites, GM crops and renewable energy.

Mr Hague insisted Conservative policies offered "real, substantial proposals rather than putting forward a lot of talk.

And he dismissed Mr Blair's speech, saying: "I think he feels: 'Now there is an election, I have to make a speech on environment."'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy denounced Mr Blair's speech, saying it offered no new initiatives or policies.

He added: "Like so much of Tony Blair's premiership, this speech is void of any real vision or leadership.

"He continues to ghettoise the environment as an add-on extra rather than a central tenet of everything the Government does. This is not a sustainable approach to running the country."

But Peter Melchett, Executive director of Greenpeace, welcomed most of Mr Blair's measures, adding: "We are pleased that the Prime Minister today accepted the Royal Commission's case that we need to cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 and his recognition that this will have to mean substantial investment in offshore wind, solar and other renewable technology.

"His announcement of some new money for offshore wind is a welcome first step but we need to see the Government move much further and more quickly.

"Greenpeace welcomes Tony Blair's tribute to the existing alliance between environmentalists and progressive companies such as Greenpeace's Greenfreeze refrigeration technology."

And Lynn Sloman, assistant director of environmental pressure group Transport 2000, said: "We're encouraged that Mr Blair has at long last made explicit the link between using cars and climate change. The Government didn't do that during the fuel crisis in September.

"People need the Prime Minister to take a lead in explaining why we can't cut the price of motoring. He's now recognising the seriousness of the issue, and we welcome that. We hope this marks a change of tack for a government which has been on the run from the motoring and haulage lobbies for too long.

"We agree with him that we need to offer people practical alternatives such as better public transport and high tech fuel efficient cars. But we do not believe these alone will solve the transport crisis.

"Countless communities troubled by noise, intimidation and danger outside their front doors want the government to act to cut traffic and speeds too."

Mr Blair underlined the global threat due to climate change and warned that in the UK there was the prospect of exotic diseases becoming commonplace, increased levels of skin cancer, floods in some years, with droughts in others, and the risk of low-lying areas being swallowed by the sea.

Farmland birds were disappearing in Britain, while the house sparrow, once more cockney than the cockneys, was now a rarity in London.

Congestion meant that urban traffic moved at the same speed as it did in 1890.

Fresh water was being polluted or used up - and demand doubled every 21 years although supply was broadly unchanged.

Mr Blair said consumer demand for Green goods should be harnessed, and not stifled.

Ways should be found of satisfying the public's aspirations in this area.

Science should be stimulated, he said, adding that he rejected the pessimistic notion that most environmental problems could only be managed, not solved.

He said: "We should see protecting the environment as a business opportunity.

"There is a growing market for environmental goods and services currently worth an amazing $300bn - as large as the world market for pharmaceuticals or aerospace."

Mr Blair said he made no apology for the priority his Government had given to education, health and crime.

But no other British government had had a Deputy Prime Minister in charge of environment policy, he went on.

"And no other British government has put the environment at the heart of its policy-making across the board from foreign affairs to the national curriculum in the way this Government has."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is shortly to publish the final version of the Government's strategy on climate change.

It would set out how Britain planned to deliver its international obligations to cut greenhouse gases by 12.5 percent and move towards a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

This would include a 10 percent target for energy from renewable sources by 2010.

Mr Blair said the Government would shortly be launching a new Carbon Trust in Britain which would channel up to £50m a year developing low carbon technology, partly paid for from the Climate Change Levy.

The trust would take the lead on low carbon technology and innovation, putting Britain in the lead internationally.

"We will also be setting up an office to export Britain's low carbon technologies, the Kyoto Mechanisms Office. It will start work in April 2001," he said.

He also announced plans for £50m from the New Opportunities Fund to support off-shore wind and biomass.

The forthcoming rural white paper would set out policies for a living countryside which was economically vibrant, and conserved wildlife and landscapes which everyone could enjoy, said Mr Blair.

The urban White Paper would set out the Government's national strategy for neighbourhood renewal.

On recycling the Government wanted to do more to harness the power of the market.

"I want to see every local authority offering doorstep recycling to take advantage of the new markets, and the office co-ordinating Government procurement will soon begin trialling the purchasing of recycled produces using Government purchasing to expand the market," Mr Blair said.

"The international climate change negotiations remain a key Government priority and we will be taking a leading role in the Hague next month.

"I also want to extend the EU's economic reform agenda to new energy saving technologies."

Looking ahead to 2002, after the next general election, the Prime Minister said he planned to attend the next Earth Summit and added: "I will be encouraging other world leaders to join us there."