The Government may be forced by MPs to adopt tougher targets to reduce carbon emissions in order to step up its fight against climate change.
The Conservatives are considering a plan to beef up the Climate Change Bill to be published shortly, which will include the Government's goal of cutting emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. A Tory policy review group favours an 80 per cent reduction and the Tories may table an amendment to the Bill along these lines.
Ministers are worried that such a move would put Labour on the defensive and allow the Tory leader, David Cameron, to make the running on the issue. They fear that many Labour MPs and the Liberal Democrats would vote in favour of an 80 per cent cut, which could result in an embarrassing defeat for the Government.
Peter Ainsworth, the Conservatives' environment spokesman, said no final decision had been taken on the Opposition's strategy but added: "There is likely to be a debate on whether it should be 60 per cent or 80 per cent. In order for there to be a debate, someone would have put down an amendment."
The Tories plan to draw up specific measures for achieving an 80 per cent reduction so they can head off a Labour charge of resorting to "gesture politics."
The Tories' policy review group on the quality of life believes the Stern report commissioned by the Government does not go far enough and has attacked the "political inertia" over climate change.
In its interim report, the group said Britain should not give up on limiting the rise in temperatures to 2C even though Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, has suggested that a 3C target is realistic. It pointed to research showing that such a rise would put 400 million more people at risk of hunger.
"We believe that the UK goal of a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 is likely to be proved inadequate. Our policy work is therefore directed at how we can reduce emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, without sacrificing quality of life or competitiveness," said the Tory group.
Yesterday Mr Cameron called on the Government to lead a "cultural change" in which everyone played their part in helping save the planet. Interviewed on Sky News, the Tory leader criticised Gordon Brown for raising air passenger duty without tax cuts elsewhere. He called for a combination of sticks and carrots to change people's behaviour. "What you need is cultural change," he said. "What you need is people to change their view about the environment and to change their behaviour, and I think that starts at the top."
Renewing his call for annual targets for carbon emissions, which the Government is resisting, he said: "I don't think we're going to get anywhere unless we have those annual targets and unless they're independently monitored. You then need government to take it very seriously and for the annual carbon report to become as important as the annual budget and the annual spending round."
Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said that climate change could be the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century with the potential to create 100,000 new jobs in the next decade. "From climate change seen simply as a threat, the environment a cost, to where it is viewed as the greatest business opportunity of our age. Bringing jobs and wealth to Britain," he said.Reuse content