Tony Blair sought to reassert his independence from the US yesterday by criticising its failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Speaking in Mozambique last night, Mr Blair delivered a hard-hitting environmental speech calling for tougher targets to cut global warming.
"We must all of us ratify the Kyoto Protocol," the Prime Minister said, in a thinly-veiled rebuke to President George Bush, who has refused to sign up to the international agreement on global warming.
Mr Blair said that more radical cuts in greenhouse gases were needed to stem global warming and he urged international leaders to follow Britain's lead and strive for tougher targets.
"On climate change, we need to build on Kyoto but we should recognise one stark fact: even if we could deliver on Kyoto, it will at best mean a reduction of 1 per cent of global warming. But we know ... we need a 60 per cent reduction worldwide. In truth, Kyoto is not radical enough. Yet it is, at present, the most that is politically do-able and even then the largest nation, the United States, stands outside it."
The Prime Minister's speech, which will be followed by an address to world leaders at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg today, is among the most radical statements on the environment he has made.
The Green Party said yesterday that the Government's record on the environment was dismal. But Mr Blair's comments from Maputo, the capital, will be widely interpreted as an attempt to reassert his green credentials.
His speech followed a day of travelling through Mozambique, visiting aid projects backed by British organisations. The Prime Minister attacked the blight of poverty in the developing world and called on wealthy countries such as the US to show "political leadership".
He gave his backing to British companies to help develop new forms of sustainable energy. British firms exporting renewable energy technology, including wind and solar power equipment, would qualify for at least £50m in export credit guarantees to help cushion the risk of dealing with developing countries.
Referring to the problems in Africa of poverty and disease – as well as the threats to the environment – the Prime Minister said: "What is truly shocking is not the scale of the problems. The truly shocking thing is that we know the remedies. Where the wealthy countries have acted, it has made a difference. It is not rocket science, it is a matter of political will and leadership."
The Prime Minister made his call for action on global emissions in the first of two keynote speeches on the environment and sustainable development on the second day of his three-day trip to Africa.
He said: "It would help enormously in securing support for Kyoto – and indeed for the necessary more radical action on climate change – if we had a far clearer and deeper knowledge of how science and technology could help in energy production and use, of how market incentives could play a part in changing behaviour, of how business could not just survive but prosper on the back of good environmental policy."
Mr Blair's official spokesman denied that the phrase "market incentives" meant possible tax increases to punish those using harmful fuels. He said he would return to the issue with specific proposals at a later date. "But just remember: Kyoto is right but it is not enough," he said.
During the day, he had travelled through Mozambique seeing British-supported aid projects designed to boost trade and help cope with the chronic problems of HIV/Aids and malaria. He visited the central port of Beira and the nearby township of Dondo, where he was greeted enthusiastically. At the central hospital in Beira, which serves seven million people, he was told that even 16 of its 220 nurses had died from Aids since the start of the year.
But despite his attempts to focus his visit solely on the environment and aid, questions over any possible British military involvement in a US-led military strike against Iraq dogged the premier. He pointedly said nothing on the issue, and aides said all questions would have to wait until Mr Blair held the third of his televised press conferences on his return to Britain tomorrow.