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CO2 levels 'are highest since 1997'

Carbon dioxide emissions have risen to their highest level since Labour came to power, a Friends of the Earth analysis of the Government's latest energy figures has found.

The official energy consumption figures for the first six months of 2006 are 2.1 per cent higher than the same period last year. A spokesman for the environmental campaigners warned that if this trend is reflected in the second half of the year, carbon dioxide levels will be approximately 4.4 per cent higher than in 1997. The Government is also being accused by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders of dragging its heels over funding for new technology that could help cut the CO2 emissions from cars.

In a submission to a cross-party Commons committee, the car-makers and dealers said they were "frustrated at the disjointed nature of grant funding for clean vehicles and fuels" in the Department for Transport's energy programme.

They said the programme had been "replaced with uncertainty and market disruption as further potential CO2 savings have been lost". They added that the Government had failed to respond to the European Commission, which had cleared the path for Britain to provide more funding for clean-car technology by deciding that it did not breach state aid rules.

Tony Blair was elected on a manifesto promise of significant cuts in carbon dioxide. The latest evidence increases the pressure for tougher action by the Prime Minister and his expected successor, Gordon Brown. Some Labour MPs are ready to vote against Mr Brown, if there is a leadership contest, because of his record on climate change.

More than 400 MPs have signed a Commons motion calling for a law requiring annual cuts in UK emissions. The call is also backed by all the main opposition parties. Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "There is now a huge cross-party consensus on the need for urgent action. Ministers must get a grip on the problem."

Friends of the Earth is in the Stop Climate Chaos coalition which launched the "I Count" campaign last week urging people to support it by texting "I Count" to 84424. The coalition has called a mass rally at Trafalgar Square, on Saturday 4 November, on the eve of international climate-change talks in Nairobi.