Britain gets a thumbs up for environment

But France, Australia and US win pariah status
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The Independent Online
William Hague's parliamentary debut as Conservative Party leader coincided with his first confrontation with the Prime Minister during a debate on the outcome of the Denver Summit.

Mr Hague said told Tony Blair he was "dismayed" at the meeting's failure to reach an agreement on targets for combating greenhouse gases and global warming.

But any increase in taxes to meet environmental aims should be matched by reductions in other taxes, he said.

Mr Blair said he could not give details of tax plans before next week's Budget. "I do believe the most important thing we can do ... is to carry on with the measures, particularly in relation to transport and energy efficiency, that we have already outlined," he said.

At the summit in New York, Britain was hailed a paragon and France condemned as a pariah in the eyes of the many environmental groups attending the Earth Summit Plus Five event.

Friends of the Earth has carried out a ballot among the dozens of pressure groups lobbying government delegates at UN headquarters, asking them which nations have performed the best and which have failed to deliver on the promises made at the original 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Britain was chosen as one of nine paragons "for cracking down on water wastage and emphasising water conservation, over meeting rising demand, and for scaling down road building".

France was among 12 pariahs. "Before Rio France blew up the Rainbow Warrior, after Rio it blew up Mururoa Atoll - leader in the emerging field of environmental delinquency," said the citation.

Other pariahs include the United States and Australia for failing to tackle global warming, Brazil for allowing the rate at which the Amazon rainforests are disappearing to speed up, and Japan for killing whales and being the world's biggest importer of tropical timber.

Tony Blair's speech on Monday to this week-long special session of the UN special assembly has been well received by delegates and reported at length by the New York Times. He attacked the USA and other non-European industrialised nations for failing to curb rising emissions of greenhouse gases.

Yesterday, however, Tim Wirth, under secretary for global affairs in the State Department, told reporters that Britain and Germany were being smug in proclaiming their success in cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s. Britain's achievement was mainly due to the closure of most of our coalmining industry and the switch to gas, a much less polluting fuel, he said. Germany, Brazil, South Africa and Singapore had jointly called for a new UN environmental organisation to be beef up what they see as the UN's poor performance on global green issues.

The Nairobi-based UN environment programme is is widely criticised as ineffectual. But Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, showed no enthusiasm for this idea.

The main output of the summit, attended by more then 60 prime ministers and presidents, is a lengthy text on whether nations have fulfilled Rio Earth Summit promises and what still needs to be done to achieve sustainable development. But there is still major disagreement between nations about this text, which civil servants are negotiating in New York.

One concern is the need for an international treaty on managing forests. Another is about what the rich countries should do about their emissions of greenhouse gases after the year 2000. The bitterest and longest argument, which will go on through the entire week, is over the scale of foreign aid from rich nations to developing ones.

Andrew Marr, page 19

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