Cameron calls for new taxes to save the planet

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Indy Politics

The Tories would replace the Government's climate change levy with more effective "green taxes," David Cameron will announce today.

In his first big speech on climate change, the Tory leader will step up the heated battle for the green vote by answering Labour's charge that he is "all spin and no substance".

Speaking in Oslo after returning from a visit to an Arctic glacier, he will outline plans for a new "carbon levy" to replace the levy on energy use by business introduced by Labour in 2001.

The Tories believe the climate change levy is a "blunt instrument" because it does not distinguish between "high carbon" forms of energy production such as coal generation and "low carbon" forms such as gas-generated electricity and nuclear power.

Mr Cameron will also unveil plans for a wider "carbon pricing framework" to apply throughout the economy. It would use a mixture of "sticks and carrots" such as tax penalties on heavy polluters and tax incentives to encourage investment in clean, green technologies.

The Tory leader has asked his party's policy review group on the quality of life to draw up detailed changes to the tax system and the use of market mechanisms to transform the way companies affect the environment. The package, to be finalised next year, would not affect individuals or raise any extra revenue overall.

Calling for a "green revolution", Mr Cameron will challenge Tony Blair to support "an effective, equitable international agreement to succeed the current Kyoto targets" which expire in 2012, with "binding targets."

He will argue: "Without the incentive provided by political frameworks and international agreements, the investment needed in new technology will not come fast enough on a sufficient scale." He will add: "It is simply not true to say that tackling climate change will inevitably lead to a reduction in our standard of living or quality of life. In fact, it's the other way round. That's what I mean by green growth."

He will say the Government should give a clear lead to business and consumers through "price signals that enable people and organisations to make rational decisions" and developing a domestic emissions trading scheme "that works".

"We have a shared responsibility to tackle climate change. Government - national and local - business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals all must play their part.

"The impact of the decisions we make today will last vastly longer than the lifetime of any one government or political leader. We can't let short term political calculation get in the way. That would be a betrayal of future generations."

The leader will say: "To those who say it is too late to avert catastrophe, I say it is our duty to try. It is possible to take a lead and make a difference. We can change how we get around; we can change how we build our homes; we can change our lifestyles, change our industrial processes, change our working practices. It's called progress. It's what mankind has always done.

"If we press ahead in tackling climate change, we'll be accelerating progress, not holding it back. We have the ingenuity and the creativity to make this work to our advantage. We can turn the costs of tackling climate change into benefits."

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, defended the Government's record on the environment yesterday when he addresses the United Nations in New York and called for a new global consensus to tackle climate change.

A Brown ally said: "Once again, Cameron is having to follow Gordon Brown's lead. But while it's good to see him recycling even when it comes to Gordon's speeches, it is not enough to draft a speech on the back of a fag packet on a dog sleigh to Norway.

"We need strong leadership around the world to take the tough decisions required to tackle climate change, not vague and confusing hints at future policies where the only clear commitment is to abolish the one instrument which has done more than any other to reduce carbon emissions."

Chris Huhne, environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "Warm words and pretty pictures are not enough to tackle global warming. The Tories have not come up with a single hard-edged proposal. Until they do, they have zero credibility on green issues.

"David Cameron must state clearly he is prepared to raise fuel duty in line with inflation, that he is prepared to restructure vehicle excise duty far more radically to discourage gas guzzlers, and that he will now vote in favour of raising the climate change levy in line with inflation."

The green verdicts

STEPHEN TINDALE chief executive, Greenpeace

When Gordon Brown first came in he was quite good. Then he seemed to lose interest until the last Budget, when he brought in a feeble rate of tax for gas-guzzling vehicles.

David Cameron: The last manifesto, which he wrote, was not very green. I was impressed when I met him. But on the climate change levy, the Tories are just parroting the CBI line.

BEN TUXWORTH director of strategy, Forum for the Future

Gordon Brown's record is not strong - two speeches in the best part of 10 years. There seemed to be commitment to eco-taxes in the early years but that was blown off course by fuel-tax protests.

It is hard to tell with David Cameron. It's very easy to say 'yes, we must protect the environment, but not at the expense of economic growth' but it's going to be hard to reconcile those two aims.

TONY JUNIPER director, Friends of the Earth

Gordon Brown has shown a real reluctance to face up to green challenges. He still sees Third World development as something separate from the environment but if you don't care for the environment, you are not going to end world poverty.

The detail of what David Cameron would do is still not there, though we welcome the fact that he is competing to be seen to be greener than Labour.

GUY THOMPSON director, Green Alliance

The environment has been a bit of a blind spot for Gordon Brown. He is only just starting to wake up to the agenda, but he is moving in the right direction.

David Cameron has been making all the right noises. The real question is whether he will make some specific, iconic policy commitments.