Howard attacks Labour over climate change

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The Independent Online

Climate change is one of "mankind's greatest challenges" but under Tony Blair's premiership carbon dioxide emissions have risen, Conservative leader Michael Howard warned today.

Climate change is one of "mankind's greatest challenges" but under Tony Blair's premiership carbon dioxide emissions have risen, Conservative leader Michael Howard warned today.

Britain and the global community "are still moving too slowly - the international effort on climate change desperately needs renewed leadership", he told the Green Alliance and Environmental Resources Management Forum in London.

Mr Howard, who highlighted Margaret Thatcher's call to the international community in the late 1980s to deal with the problem, said "Britain is in a position to provide that leadership. We have done so in the past."

"We are one of the few countries likely to meet our Kyoto obligations, largely it should be said because of the Conservative-led "dash for gas" in the 1990s," he went on.

"We have a privileged relationship with the USA, which leaves us best placed to persuade them into the international fold. We assume the Presidency of the G8 and the EU next year.

"My concern is that we are squandering this opportunity because of our failure to follow up bold rhetoric with action that inspires trust.

"The instinct of our Prime Minister is to lecture people. But on his watch, CO2 emissions have actually risen.

"He has set ambitious long-term targets for CO2 emission reductions but few people outside government believe that there is a coherent plan for achieving them."

Mr Howard said Labour's policy on sustainable transport is now "a jumble of contradictions", and their renewable energy strategy began and ended with onshore wind farms, despite the opposition from local communities.

He added Labour's support for new technology was well behind that of other leading economies, despite the fact that it could transform the debate and create great opportunities for British companies.

Underlining the role played by his party in highlighting the threat posed by an imbalance of fossil fuel emissions in the atmosphere and the resulting climate change, Mr Howard accused Labour of failure on the issue.

Mr Howard said his party had a long track record of action on the environment going back to the 19th century.

"Margaret Thatcher was one of the first major world leaders to alert the international community to the threat of global warming.

"Chris Patten produced the first White Paper on the environment.

"John Major set up the Environment Agency.

"It was a great privilege for me to serve as Environment Secretary.

"I signed the agreement to end CFCs.

"And one of the most extraordinary and rewarding days of my entire time in government was when I was Environment Secretary.

"Just after the 1992 election I spent a day in Washington and succeeded in persuading the United States Government, under George Bush senior, to sign the Climate Change Convention - the forerunner of the Kyoto Agreement."

The Conservative leader accused Labour of "unbelievable" incompetence in managing European legislation.

"Take fridges for example. When the new rules for disposing of fridges came in effect in January 2002, the UK had only two sites available for recycling and disposal.

"Defra's incompetence led to enormous expense, the infamous 'fridge mountains', and the transportation of redundant fridges to Europe where the appropriate machinery was available.

"How can we expect to make progress if even the most basic environmental legislation cannot be properly implemented?

"Above all Labour have failed to engage the British people, whose decisions as consumers, taxpayers and parents are of crucial importance in shifting Britain towards being a low-carbon economy. In fact, over issues like fridge mountains, they have alienated them."

Mr Howard said that because of Labour's high-handedness, consumers, communities and small firms now more often than not see environmental regulation as a burden and a hindrance, rather than what it should be, as a step towards a sustainable future.

"This is not the ideal background against which to assume the presidency of the G8 and the EU next year."

Mr Howard said a Conservative Government would reassert the country's international leadership in this area and create a global market to encourage a reduction in emissions.

The Conservatives would also renew the drive for a diverse renewable energy sector as well as re-focus on increased energy efficiency.

He pledged his party to phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs - which are mostly used in refrigerators - between 2008 and 2014.

And Mr Howard said the USA had to be brought in to the international fold.

"Like the war on terror, or the drive for responsible free trade, climate change is an international issue that depends on international co-operation. No-one can opt out of the fight against global warming.

"That means persuading the Americans to join the battle against climate change. America generates a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, yet it has only 4% of the world's population.

"Their involvement is essential if we are to have effective action. It can be done.

"After all, we've been here before.

"One of the greatest challenges I faced as Secretary of State for the Environment was to persuade the Americans to participate in the first Earth Summit.

"I vividly remember my 24 hours of shuttle diplomacy in Washington before the Rio Summit, ending with me in the White House persuading the Americans not just to attend, but to sign up to the climate change convention, the forerunner of Kyoto.

"It is very disappointing that Tony Blair has not succeeded in persuading the present administration that the challenge of global warming is one that cannot be shirked."

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