Blair's greenhouse gas policy 'scandalous'

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Tony Blair's commitment to tackle climate change was questioned yesterday by opposition MPs who condemned his "scandalous" attempt to block an EU-wide target to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Tony Blair's commitment to tackle climate change was questioned yesterday by opposition MPs who condemned his "scandalous" attempt to block an EU-wide target to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Minutes of meetings from the Council of Ministers in Brussels last month which were released this week showed that Britain tried to delete a proposal for developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80 per cent by 2050. At the meeting, Britain, backed by a handful of other EU countries, including Poland and Portugal, made a formal move to replace the target with an aspiration for increased reduction efforts.

In the House of Commons yesterday Elliot Morley, the Environment Minister, was forced to defend the move by Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs. Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, accused the Prime Minister of trying to curry favour with the Bush administration in the United States, which has failed to back international targets on climate change.

Mr Baker said yesterday: "It seems they are trying to water this down in a vain attempt to get President Bush to sign up to an agreement. But all the evidence from Iraq is whenever the Prime Minister tries to go halfway to please Bush he does all the giving and Bush does all the taking."

Tim Yeo, the Conservative environment spokesman, wrote to Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, demanding an explanation for what he called the Government's "outrageous behaviour". He said: "This is scandalous. Blair is saying publicly that climate change is the greatest threat to mankind this century. But privately he is trying to get the EU to downgrade their targets." The Council of Europe documents show that in EU talks about the creation of "emission reduction strategies, including targets" Britain opposed the introduction of a firm target. The strategy was discussed in December at a meeting of EU environment ministers where Ms Beckett was present.

The Department for the Environment said yesterday that Britain was committed to EU-wide targets but did not want to "pluck a target out of thin air" before more analysis was done.

In September, Mr Blair emphasised the need for international co-operation on climate change and said that Britain was "committed" to a massive change in the way energy was produced. He said that combating global warming would be a priority for Britain's presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations which Britain assumed this month. He also said that "current EU policy" was "insufficient".

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