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Beckett exposes G8 rift on global warming

The British Government is deeply disappointed that President George Bush has not made a greater commitment to tackling climate change before the G8 summit, the Environment Secretary has disclosed. In a rare, outspoken critique of the US position on global warming, Margaret Beckett told The Independent of the Government's frustration at the lack of "common ground" with Washington on the need for action on the environment. The US has consistently blocked attempts by Britain to put progress on tackling climate change alongside G8's moves to scrap African debt at the Gleneagles meeting of the leading industrialised nations next month.

Mrs Beckett added that signing the Kyoto protocol was clearly "off the agenda" for President Bush, who was "coming from a different place in the dialogue" on the issue of global warming. She said the Government had made no secret that it wants the White House to be "more engaged" on climate change. "Certainly there is a degree of disappointment that there isn't more common ground than there already is," she said.

Her remarks come days after Mr Blair returned from talks with President Bush about global warming in Washington.

At Westminster, Mrs Beckett's criticism will be interpreted as a sign of growing frustration with the White House over an issue that the Prime Minister wants to see given top billing at the summit in Glenagles. Mrs Beckett said that President Bush was fully aware of the importance Mr Blair had attached to a breakthrough on climate change during his presidency of the G8. "He [Bush] has known for a long time. He has known since before it was in the public domain that Tony had every intention of making climate change as well as Africa a top priority for our G8 year."

But the Prime Minister's inability to gain concessions from his closest ally, following his backing for military action against Iraq, will be seen by some as a sign that Mr Blair does not have the influence he would like.

Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said America was a "Neanderthal" when it came to the environment. "As an absolute minimum, George Bush must acknowledge the work of his own scientists that climate change is caused by people," he said.

Mrs Beckett acknowledged Britain had no hope of persuading the US to sign up to Kyoto."The US signing up to Kyoto is off the agenda," she said.

The focus now was on creating a dialogue with the US and other major energy users, including India and China, about the way forward.

Her remarks came as Mr Blair headed to Russia to seek the support of President Vladimir Putin for a breakthrough on climate change at the G8 conference. On a flying visit to Moscow and three European capitals, Mr Blair will try to build on the Russian acceptance of the Kyoto targets for tackling climate change to put more pressure on the US to come on board.

As the Prime Minister prepared to fly out at the start of a hectic 48 hours of diplomacy, his official spokesman raised the prospect that Mr Bush could sign up to a more limited agenda, dubbed "Kyoto Lite'', at the Gleneagles summit. "Russia has signed up to Kyoto," he said. "We said as far back as our talks in Johannesburg that we did not expect the US to sign up to Kyoto. The important point is not to make Kyoto into something you sign or there is nothing.

"The important thing is to recognise concerns about climate change. We agree with the US about the need to bring into the fold some emerging countries, India and China, and we believe we will see it at Gleneagles."

The differences between the US and Britain were starkly illustrated in a leaked G8 document seen by The Independent. President Bush said last week that he wanted more international co-operation on "clean nuke." But a draft of a G8 communiqué shows disagreement over the US's wish for separate section on the role of nuclear power. The draft, Powering a Cleaner Future, says a "UK red line" - area not for negotiation - was the US's singling out of nuclear power as a clean energy source.

It said: "UK red line: Avoid US suggestion for a separate nuclear heading. This would be quite a serious jump in political attention from previous ... texts. Any statement should be couched in language that leaves it up to individual governments to decide whether nuclear is a suitable part of their energy mix."

Mrs Beckett gave a strong indication that she did not support the revival of nuclear power, and construction of new plants, believed to be favoured by Mr Blair, to tackle global warming.

She said new power stations were not the answer to meeting the goal of a 20 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 or a 60 per cent cut by 2050.

She admitted CO2 emissions were rising in Britain, along with the rest of the Northern hemisphere, and said she was "very" disappointed that the UK was in danger of missing those targets.