In a reversal of the time, a decade ago, when it was excoriated for being the "dirty man of Europe", Britain is now the only country offering to increase its targets for reductions in climate-changing gas emissions. To sharpen the contrast, some of the greenest countries on the Continent - such as the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark - are insisting on doing less than they had originally promised.
The issue will come to a head during cliffhanging negotiations on Tuesday at what the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, says is an "absolutely crucial" meeting of European environment ministers. Europe was the driving force behind the international agreement to fight global warming that concluded in Kyoto last December, and if it fails to fulfil the promises that it made there, the treaty is likely to fall apart.
The environment minister Michael Meacher, who will be chairing the meeting, is threatening to keep his fellow ministers sitting all night if necessary to ensure that there is no backsliding.
At Kyoto, Europe agreed to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases by 8 per cent by the year 2010. Tuesday's meeting is to decide how to share out this target between individual countries. Even though Europe originally proposed cutting emissions by almost twice as much, 15 per cent, it is not clear that the commitments made by individual countries on Tuesday will add up to the Kyoto figure.
The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark and other countries are back-pedalling, with the Dutch saying that they will only make half the cuts that they promised. In an attempt to break the deadlock Britain will offer to increase its cuts from 10 to 12 per cent by 2010.
Mr Meacher is ready to tell his Continental counterparts that they will be "a laughing stock" if they fail to confirm the Kyoto target. Countries such as the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan are far less committed than Europe to combating climate change and will be likely to walk away from the treaty if Europe fails to fulfil its undertakings.Reuse content