Tough policies needed to keep emissions pledge

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The Independent Online
TOUGH policies to encourage energy saving, a switch from fossil fuels and to curb car use are needed soon if Britain is to keep its promise to address the threat of global warming, new government figures reveal.

They show that the UK's emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important of the climate-changing greenhouse gases, have risen in the last few years and on present trends will continue to do so.

By 2000 they could be up to 12 per cent higher than the 1990 total. Yet the Government has promised to freeze emissions at the 1990 level by then.

John Major reinforced the commitment when he signed the climate change treaty at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June. The figures also show that even if the Government can keep its promise for 2000, carbon dioxide emissions are likely to rise significantly after then. By 2020, emissions could be up to 66 per cent higher than today.

Almost all of the emissions come from burning coal, oil, petrol and gas, with a small amount from the manufacture of cement. The latest forecast comes on the eve of a multi-million pound television and press advertising campaign encouraging people to use less electricity and fuel at home.

Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, launches the campaign on Monday. But energy experts and environmentalists say that appealing for voluntary efforts is not enough - the Government has to take a lead with new policies.

The Department of Trade and Industry forecasts that carbon dioxide emissions, which amounted to 160 million tonnes in 1990, will range between 157 million and 179 million tonnes by 2000 unless new measures are introduced. The forecast for 2020 is 188 million to 285 million tonnes. The lower estimate, which represents a small drop in emissions between now and 2000, will only happen if there is low economic growth (1.25 per cent a year) and much higher oil and coal prices than today. The top figure is based on cheap fuel prices and high growth.

The department's 'best guess' on emission levels by 2000 is about 166 million tonnes. Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said the Government would have to introduce policies to encourage energy saving if it was to keep its promise to maintain 1990 levels by then.

The private sector was spending much less on energy conservation because of the recession. And despite the lack of any economic growth for more than a year, fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions were rising. 'Things are going backwards rather than forwards,' he said.

Fiona Weir, of Friends of the Earth, said that when the Government promised to stabilise emissions by 2000, people expect them to remain at or below the 1990 level thereafter. 'They have to make it a permanent ceiling at the very least, because we need cuts in emissions,' she said.