David Cameron has "abdicated responsibility" on the environment and left Britain trailing the world on climate change, Ed Miliband says today. Ahead of UN climate talks in Peru this week, the Labour leader, writing for The Independent on Sunday, launches a savage attack on the Prime Minister for turning the UK from being a world leader on environmental targets into a "laggard" because Mr Cameron believes it is no longer a "fashionable" subject and Conservative MPs are "flirting with climate change denial".
As part of his mission to modernise his party, Mr Cameron embraced the environment within weeks of being elected leader in 2005 and, on becoming Prime Minister in 2010, declared that the coalition would be the "greenest government ever".
But since then, Mr Miliband says, the premier has made a "long retreat from the principles in which he once claimed to believe". This has included signing up to the bare minimum required on EU-wide carbon emission reductions of 40 per cent by 2030, deterring investment in renewable energy and wanting to get rid of the "green crap" altogether.
In his Autumn Statement last week, George Osborne made no mention of climate change or carbon emission targets, and his only reference to the environment was more money for flood defences, which Mr Miliband said was "belated finger-in-the-dyke funding".
At the UN climate change conference in Lima this week, environment ministers from around the world will discuss global targets for emissions reduction. In his article, Mr Miliband writes that the talks "are our best chance yet to secure a binding international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. They are crucial to anyone who cares about our economic future, the environment our children will inherit, and, as the floods last winter showed, the national security of our country".
The Labour leader, who was climate change secretary of state in the last government, adds: "The leadership and political consensus we once offered the world have been replaced by dither and denial.
"Ahead of these talks in Lima, the Prime Minister has ignored pleas from the Foreign Office to raise climate change in his recent meetings with Chinese leaders."
If elected, Mr Miliband says he will push for new global targets for reducing carbon emissions towards a long-term goal of zero net global emissions towards the end of this century; he also promises to put climate change on the agenda of every international summit in the run-up to major talks in Paris next year. He says a Miliband government would commit Britain to a carbon-free electricity supply by 2030. Finally, he pledges that the next Labour government will not make the economy "an excuse for dragging our feet on climate change", making Britain a "world leader in green technology by 2025". The Labour leader says that investing in green energy and technology is part of the answer to economic growth, not part of the problem.
Mr Miliband writes: "The environment may not be as fashionable an issue now as it was when David Cameron attached a wind turbine to his house. But I believe tackling climate change is the most important thing I can do in politics for the long-term future of my kids and their generation. And I will not leave those principles behind at the door to Downing Street. That is the choice the country will face at the next election: a Conservative government that … makes Britain a laggard on climate change, or a Labour government that leads."
The Government insists it can live up to its "greenest government ever" status, having introduced the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) and the Green Deal – although Mr Osborne watered down the former last year.
This week, Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey will give details of the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, a £30m pot for people to improve energy efficiency in their homes. Households in England and Wales can apply for up to £5,600 to pay for solid wall installation, double glazing, boilers, cavity wall and floor insulation. The funding is part of £100m announced in October for household energy efficiency measures, in addition to £450m already allocated for this area over the next three years.
Mr Davey said: "The best way people can cut their energy bills … is to improve their homes so that they leak less heat and use less energy. That's why we've increased the funding available for the Green Deal to help even more people [save] money sooner."
The Chancellor's failure to mention climate change in his mini-Budget appalled environmental groups. Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: "In what looks like the warmest year on record, George Osborne has strikingly failed to shield the UK economy from climate change and grasp the opportunities of a modern clean-tech economy… Instead, we get a 1980s-style road-building programme and subsidies/tax breaks for fossil fuel giants."