Green Gummer wants more tax on fuel

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John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, yesterday called for radical measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming.

Speaking at a United Nations conference on the environment in Geneva, Mr Gummer told ministers and delegates from 150 countries that there should be a world-wide tax on aviation fuel. "Every time we run one of these climate-change conferences, we do a great deal of damage to the global atmosphere by the aeroplanes we travel in," he said.

He said that Britain was joining several other countries in calling on the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to review the current exemption, and added: "By review, we do not mean look at it and say nothing can be done."

He also proposed an increase in road-fuel duties. "Road transport is a growing source of emissions. Increasing duties would encourage greater fuel efficiency and also address air-quality problems," he said. He called for an end to subsidies on the use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

Mr Gummer's speech came as the Clinton administration announced a policy U-turn and committed itself to legally binding cuts in polluting greenhouse gases. In a move likely to infuriate the industrial lobby in the United States, Timothy Wirth, US Under-secretary of State for Global Affairs, urged all industrialised nations to agree to binding targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. "Sound policies pursued in the near term will allow us to avoid the prospect of truly draconian and economically disruptive policies in the future," he told the conference.

The extent of the cuts would be agreed once economic analysis was completed in the next year and a half, Mr Wirth said.

The policy shift sent shockwaves through some US oil and power businesses which warned the move could cost America millions of jobs.

John Shlaes, executive director of the Global Climate Coalition of oil, power and auto industries and associations, complained that US climate negotiators had made the commitment although economic analysis into the impact was only half completed.

"The Clinton administration is willing to risk a wild ride for Americans on a rollercoaster economy while giving developing countries a free ride," Mr Shlaes said.

Environmentalists said the US move had caused a sea change in the negotiations. Bill Hare, policy director on climate change for the environmental group Greenpeace, said the lead would put pressure on the European Union and Japan to follow suit. Though the EU had called for large cuts, it had only hinted that they should be legally binding, he said. And Japan, the host of the next conference in Kyoto in December 1997, has only spoken of "morally binding" limits.

Governments first agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000 at the Earth Summit in Rio four years ago.