Government under fire after cutting emission targets

The Government was accused yesterday of backtracking on its environmental commitments after it watered down targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government was accused yesterday of backtracking on its environmental commitments after it watered down targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Green lobbyists claimed the Government's policy on climate change was now in "disarray" but business groups argued that the targets were still very tough and would put UK firms at a disadvantage against competitors elsewhere in Europe.

Ministers announced that UK carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 15.2 per cent by 2010 compared with 1990 levels rather than the 16.3 per cent target that was originally set.

The reduction will be achieved with the aid of a European Union-wide emissions trading scheme which starts in 2005 and will enable firms to trade pollution permits across Europe.

The ultimate target is supposed to be a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2010. However, Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a joint statement only that the Government was "committed to its national goal of moving towards a 20 per cent reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide by 2010".

There is widespread scepticism about whether the UK will meet even the modified target for cutting greenhouse gases given that CO2 emissions actually rose last year while the proportion of the country's electricity generated from renewable sources fell.

The Engineering Employers Federation said a 15.2 per cent cut in emissions would mean higher costs for UK manufacturing industry but for no environmental gain. "The Government has got its head in the clouds on this issue and industry on the ground is set to pay a heavy price," said its director general, Martin Temple.

The CBI said the targets were still tough and called on the Government to ensure that other EU states made similar efforts to cut emissions. Digby Jones, its director general, said: "Other EU states may appear to be making bigger reductions than the UK but the figures hide the fact that, even at this stage, the UK has gone much further than most. It would be wrong to allow some EU states to shirk their duty and gain an unfair competitive advantage or pretend to wear green credentials which are then ignored in practice."

Friends of the Earth said ministerial pledges to cut emissions by 20 per cent "appear to be nothing more than a distant dream" and urged the Government to bring the UK back on track.

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