CO<sub>2</sub> levels 'have not fallen under Labour'

Tony Blair must do more to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions if he wants to show world leadership in tackling the problem, a leading environmental campaign group urged today.

Friends of the Earth spoke out as an international scientific conference opened on the threat of climate change. The group said carbon dioxide levels have not fallen in the UK since Labour came to power in 1997.

More than 200 scientists from across the world will attend the conference at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, at the new Met Office complex in Exeter, Devon.

Friends of the Earth said the Prime Minister, who describes the threat of climate change as "so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence", has promised to put it at the top of the international agenda this year during the UK chairing of the G8 and presidency of the EU.

Last week, he called for international action on global warming at the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The UK Government has also pledged to cut carbon dioxide levels to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. But UK emissions of carbon dioxide currently stand at only 7.5 per cent below the 1990 baseline, the same as 1997.

The Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said "There is overwhelming scientific evidence of the terrible threat posed by climate change. While it is important to find out more about the risks, major cuts in emissions cannot be delayed any longer.

"Tony Blair wants to lead the world in the battle against global warming. But unless the UK makes sustained and significant cuts in its own emissions, the Prime Minister's credibility and effectiveness on this issue will be seriously undermined."

Greenhouse gases now going into the atmosphere will have an effect on climate in 30 or 4O years' time, said the head of the Climate Prediction Programme at the Centre, Dr Vicky Pope.

Emissions have been going on since the industrial revolution, but it is only relatively recently that the technology has been available to develop models to reveal what has happened over the last century, and predict what could happen in the future, she said.

"Even the most conservative predictions will give us substantial climate changes by the end of the century," she added.

The Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said ahead of the conference: "We hope it will provide new information on the risks of climate change and provide a firmer basis for discussing long-term stabilisation action. However, it is not, of course, a policy negotiation.

"We also look to the conference to review practical ways of achieving emission reduction required to meet different stabilisation goals."

She went on: "This scientific conference will make a valuable contribution to our G8 Presidency and our wider aim of reinvigorating the climate change debate and stimulating further engagement for future action."

Over the next three days, scientists will be discussing scientific understanding of and encourage debate on the long-term implications of climate change.

There will be papers on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and sea level rise, the role of tropical forests, problems caused by rapid climate change, and critical levels of greenhouse gases, stabilisation scenarios and the implications for global decisions.

The conference will review the likely impacts of climate change, which could include "abrupt and rapid changes" and "irreversible changes to the climate system".

Among the key questions to be discussed at the conference are:

* What are the key impacts, for different regions and sectors, and for the world as a whole, of different levels of climate change?

* What would such levels of climate change impacts imply in terms of greenhouse gas levels and how might emissions be managed to meet such levels?

* What technological options are there to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, taking into account costs and uncertainties?

The conference comes at a midway point between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report, published in 2001, and its fourth report, anticipated in 2007.

The IPCC concluded in 2001 that there "is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities".

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