'Independent' backs key debate on environment

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Can your vote help save the planet? With the election looming, a debate between the environmental spokesmen of the three main political parties, organised by Britain's leading green pressure groups and
The Independent, may enable you to find out.

Can your vote help save the planet? With the election looming, a debate between the environmental spokesmen of the three main political parties, organised by Britain's leading green pressure groups and The Independent, may enable you to find out.

The debate, to be held in London on 28 February, will pit Labour's Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, against the Tory environment spokesman Damian Green and his Liberal Democrat counterpart, Don Foster.

It will reveal where they stand on vital issues. The spokesmen will be put on the spot: they will be asked to sign up to demanding pledges on tackling climate change, conserving the countryside and controlling toxic chemicals, which the seven green groups have jointly drafted, and which are seen as key issues for any incoming government.

The debate, which will be held in the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster and chaired by The Independent's chief political commentator, Donald Macintyre, will be in front of an invited audience of specialists in policy and public affairs, the media, and some places for the public.

It will mark the launch of a determined campaign by Britain's environmentalists to make sure green issues are given a high profile in the forthcoming poll.

Central to the campaign will be a new website, www.vote-environment.org.uk, which will carry details of the green policies of all the main parties, from the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru to the Green Party, during the election. A "green grid" on the site will allow their positions to be instantly compared and contrasted.

The seven groups behind the initiative, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, The World Wide Fund for Nature, The Wildlife Trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Green Alliance together form a powerful lobby, representing nearly two million voters between them, and they are determined the environment will not become a forgotten issue.

Their three suggested pledges for the debate set demanding targets. The first, on climate change, involves cutting national emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, by 1.5 per cent every year until 2050, investing £500m annually in energy efficiency and £100m in offshore wind power, and establishing a programme of solar power for 100,000 households.

The second, on the countryside, involves allocating 25 per cent of all farm support spending to green farming schemes, with a target for organic farming to represent 30 per cent of all agriculture by 2010.

The third pledge commits to phasing out all known hormone-disrupting chemicals and pesticides which accumulate in the environment by 2005, and to produce a comprehensive action plan to phase out all toxic chemicals by 2015.

"We want to ensure that the debate about the environment starts early," said Tony Burton, Assistant Director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

"There's no question that it's of central concern to the population. It's everything people experience when they get out of their front door, whether it's the grim and graffiti in the street around them to the wider issue of climate change and global warming."

Members of the public who want to attend the debate should contact Diane Lowe of the World Wide Fund for nature on 01483 412381 (telephone), 01483 861006 (fax) or by email on dlowe@wwf.org.uk.

There will be no admission without prior confirmation, which will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

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