Why Government insists longer time frame is better

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Why do we need to cut carbon emissions?

Carbon dioxide, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, is the main gas responsible for warming the earth's atmosphere. Scientists agree that rising temperatures will cause sea levels to rise, threatening millions of people. Unchecked it will cause dramatic changes to weather patterns, resulting in more storms, floods and droughts, threatening agriculture while posing a severe threat to the global economy and international security.

How much carbon does the UK produce?

Britain produced about 153 million tons of carbon last year, while the rest of the world accounted for the remaining 98 per cent, approximately 7,303 million tons. Tony Blair has committed the UK to reducing emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.

So what's all the fuss about?

Opposition parties and a number of leading environmental groups are urging the Government to impose annual targets for cutting emissions. They say annual targets are required to force Britain's performance on carbon emissions to be closely assessed. Failure to impose annual targets allows ministers to escape political accountability.

What's the Government's response?

They insist annual targets are unworkable and longer term targets are more effective. In an attempt to silence criticism, the climate change Bill in today's Queen's Speech is expected to set five-year targets.

What's the situation in other countries?

The UK accounts for only a fraction of the world's CO2 emissions and the Government is committed to international action and diplomacy to reduce the threat from global warming. Some 160 countries are covered by the UN's 1997 Kyoto protocol, intended to cut global emissions. However, some of the biggest polluters are not bound by it. The United States and Australia refused to ratify the agreement, while India and China, as developing countries, are not bound by it either. Persuading the world to take action is the biggest challenge facing global leaders.

How will the cuts be made?

As well as capping the global emissions of the industrialised world, Kyoto sought to create a market in trading pollution, aimed at providing an economic incentive for the worst polluters to cut back. The UK Government is seeking to persuade individuals to reduce their carbon footprint by conserving energy - walking rather than driving and other measures. But it is in the search for effective non-carbon sources of energy where the biggest gains could be made. The Government is encouraging industry to reduce its emissions through the climate change levy and aims to meet 10 per cent of energy needs by renewable sources - such as wind, solar and wave technology - by 2010 as well as doubling the amount of from combined heat/power sources. More controversially, the Government is poised to build more nuclear power stations to reduce carbon.

Will that be enough to halt global warming?

Carbon causes climate change no matter in which country it is produced. So while Britain might have a better than average record on reducing its carbon emissions it must persuade the world to cut back too if the most nightmarish scenarios are to be avoided. The failure of US leadership on the issue has been an obstacle and the developing world can argue that it should not be hampered in its march to economic progress by targets set by rich countries.

While environmentalists argue for strict measures to combat the problem, politicians must also listen to the concerns of business and meet ever-present demands to deliver increasing levels of prosperity.