Britain set to drop emissions targets for business

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The Government's plans for tackling climate change - to be announced on Tuesday - will be the "acid test" of whether it is really serious about protecting the environment, a leading campaigner claimed yesterday.

The climate change review programme will set out how the Government proposes to deal with the problem that Britain is producing rising quantities of greenhouse gases. The review was ordered 15 months ago by the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, as it became increasingly clear that the UK is way off course from its self-imposed target to reduce the emission of greenhouses by 20 per cent of the 1990 level by 2010.

Ministers have promised a "radical" programme to avert a problem which is changing weather patterns around the world, turning the coast of Greenland from ice to slush - but environmentalists fear they are in for a disappointment. Friends of the Earth's executive director, Tony Juniper, said: "This is Tony Blair's chance to show he is listening to the tens of thousands of people across the country who support Friends of the Earth's demand for a climate change law.

"The solutions are there - whether or not the Government chooses to use them is a key test of its credibility on climate change and on whether it can be trusted to deliver on its manifesto commitments."

What next week's announcement will fail to do is give British businesses their next set of targets for how much carbon they can emit. These targets, which can make a large difference to a company's balance sheet, are to be delayed until after the 30 June deadline set by the European Union.

In previous years the UK has led the way in setting targets, but last year this led to an embarrassing legal wrangle with the EU. When targets were announced last April, electricity generators and others objected, and the Government had to apply twice to the EU to have the limits raised.

This year, there has been a fierce row between Mrs Beckett and the Trade and Industry Secretary, Alan Johnson, who has defended companies who had protested that their international competitiveness would be damaged if the limits imposed were too strict. Mrs Beckett wanted to cut emissions by eight million tons; Mr Johnson suggested three million tons. The programme is expected to set out a range of possible targets.

"Last time, Britain went first and the others followed," a senior government spokesman said. "This time, what we want to do is see what the others are doing before we set our targets. But we've got a good agenda for reducing carbon emissions."

The UK has been pushing for the trading emissions scheme - which rewards firms who cut their carbon emissions - to be extended to cover all aircraft using any EU airport. Mrs Beckett, Mr Johnson, and the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling,have written to the EU Commission saying the scheme should include road transport.

Tony Blair has suggested that the answer is to build more nuclear power stations. But Friends of the Earth insists that a combination of better insulated buildings, cleaner technology, and greater use of renewable energy sources could meet Britain's energy needs, without resorting to nuclear power.