Environment: Labour faces rethink on greenhouse-gas curbs

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The Independent Online
Political agreement in Kyoto - but business grumblings back home. Labour's stance on greenhouse gases may have to be revised in the cold light of day. Charles Arthur, Science Editor, explains.

The UK government's role in the European Union's commitment to reduce its greenhouse-gas outputs by 8 per cent will be a tough one on three fronts.

First, Labour will have to decide how any cuts are implemented. The obvious suggestion - that all sectors, such as domestic, industrial and transport - should cut outputs of the six named gases equally, will meet opposition from groups like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). They think the initial burden should fall on easier targets for improvement, such as the domestic sector.

Secondly, the exact allocation of cuts has to be parcelled out among EU members, and under the procedure known as "burden sharing", in which richer countries within the union have to shoulder larger cuts, the UK's share of reduction emissions may be closer to 10 per cent, rather than 8 per cent. This will be a tough negotiating issue which Britain will oversee during its presidency of the EU next year. It has already been taking a close interest, as Luxembourg, the current EU president, recognised early on that it would not have the negotiating resources to tackle Kyoto on its own, and called on Britain for assistance.

Thirdly, the Labour Party manifesto commits the UK to a 20 per cent cut in carbon-dioxide emissions. Post-Kyoto, this seems excessive. Carbon dioxide is the least "warming" of the "basket" of six gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride ) involved in the agreement. There seems little point in making high-profile commitments to major cuts in a gas if we might meet - or even exceed - our targets by other means.

It remains to be seen whether Labour will quietly drop this target, or brandish it as an example to be achieved.

But some of the early lobbying will almost certainly come from the business sector, which is keen to escape any early strictures on its output. Michael Roberts, of the CBI, suggested yesterday that the Government should start by "plucking the low-lying fruit", and reduce energy consumption in the domestic, rather than industrial sector.