Emissions of greenhouse gas getting worse

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Britain's emissions of the most important climate-changing greenhouse gas jumped last year, having fallen through the first half of the 1990s.

According to the World Energy Council, an international energy think- tank, United Kingdom carbon dioxide emissions climbed 3 per cent between 1995 and 1996.

Britain, like other developed countries, pledged at the Rio Earth Summit five years ago to stabilise its annual output of the gas at the 1990 level by 2000. The carbon dioxide comes mostly from the burning of coal, oil and gas by households, traffic, industry and commerce.

The UK is still on course to meet its stabilisation commitment, thanks to a fall in emissions through the first half of the decade. This was due mainly to the recession, which cut energy use, and the drastic substitution of natural gas for coal in power stations. Gas produces far less carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than coal.

But with the economy growing strongly and energy use rising in step with it, UK emissions are set to rise rapidly into the next millennium.

The Tory government had agreed to cut UK annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 per cent between 2000 and 2010. Then Labour came into power with a manifesto commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent over this period, a target ministers still adhere to.

Drastic policies to curb our dependence on fossil fuels are required to give any hope at all of hitting that ambitious target.

The dirtiest five

Carbon dioxide emissions (millions of tonnes)

1990 1993 1996

France 113 111 111

Germany 282 258 260

Italy 121 117 122

Spain 63 67 71

UK 170 166 169

Source: World Energy Council