Lib Dems shun Tories over alliance on climate change

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An attempt by the two main opposition parties to agree a platform on tackling climate change has collapsed after the Liberal Democrats pulled out of the process.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, accused the Tories of being unwilling to reach agreement on measures to combat the threat to the planet. The Liberal Democrats accused David Cameron of using his commitment to the environment as a "fig leaf" to hide his lack of firm policies on the issue.

The Tories claimed Sir Menzies was less committed to a common front than his predecessor, Charles Kennedy, while environmental campaigners expressed disappointment that the prospect of an all-party consensus has receded.

The talks foundered on the question of green taxes. A negotiating document obtained by The Independent showed that the Tories, while accepting the tax system should discourage environmental pollution, struck out a Liberal Democrat proposal saying "the decline in green taxes as a share of GDP needs to be reversed". The Tories also rejected a plan for "much higher vehicle excise duty on high emission vehicles".

Although the Tories were prepared to commit to raise green taxes as a proportion of total tax revenue, the Liberal Democrats said this did not go far enough because a future Tory government could reduce taxes. The Tories accused the Liberal Democrats of splitting hairs and putting too much emphasis on taxes.

The parties were trying to reach agreement on a submission to an all-party group on climate change. Although the Liberal Democrats said the talks could be revived to allow progress on specific policies, it looks unlikely. Sir Menzies said: "The whole idea of the cross-party approach was to allow all parties to be braver in putting forward new ideas, but the Tories are unable to commit."

For the Conservatives, Peter Ainsworth said it was "highly regrettable" the Liberal Democrats had withdrawn from the agreement.