On Wednesday, at Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair failed to confirm that there would be a Climate Change Bill in his final Queen's Speech on 15 November. Despite all the press briefings that suggested the contrary, he could not give a straight answer. Briefing to the press one minute, obfuscating in Parliament the next, this government really does not get the importance of the issue.
Tackling climate change is a responsibility shared by individuals, communities and businesses. But the responsibility for giving a lead lies with government. Politicians must set the overall framework and take the tough decisions that will make a lasting difference for the long term.
Carbon emissions in this country have risen for five of the past eight years. It hardly needs saying that we need a step change in our national efforts to tackle climate change, and we cannot rely on individuals, activists and businesses alone to cut carbon emissions - we need the Government to act and show leadership. That is why the Conservative Party, along with a coalition including Friends of the Earth, the Women's Institute and Action Aid, are calling for a Climate Change Bill in the next Queen's Speech.
But all the Government seems ready to offer is, at best, a watered-down Bill. At a time of acute water shortage, I am sure the irony escapes them. Their Bill will reportedly make provision for an independent body to advise on whether government policies will meet green targets and that the Government will oppose the idea of a law requiring a cut in carbon emissions year on year. Instead, Mr Milliband is looking for binding targets for each decade.
This attempt to tackle the greatest threat to our planet is nothing short of a cop-out. If Labour does not understand the futility of targets for every decade, they need only look at their previous policies. In each of their last three manifestos, Labour made a clear commitment to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. Yet, this year, they dropped this altogether, proving beyond doubt the pointlessness of far-off targets. This new proposal to have targets for every decade is simply an old, failed policy, rehashed in a monument to spin over substance.
The Conservative Party is instead proposing a Climate Change Bill with binding, year-on-year targets on carbon emissions. As The Independent pointed out forcefully on its front page yesterday in its own radical green manifesto, only this will provide the accountability that is desperately required and help us to reduce our emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Annual binding targets for carbon reduction will create a price for carbon in our economy, so things that produce more carbon will become more expensive. It will place a responsibility on us all to find environmentally friendly alternatives.
We also believe an Independent Climate Change Commission, comprising scientists, economists, non-governmental organisations and representatives of industry, commerce and finance, should be established to set and enforce these targets, not merely monitor them as the Government is proposing.
The Commission will operate in a similar way to the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee. It will have a duty to observe the evolving international science on climate change, and to review the UK's progress towards meeting its carbon reduction obligations, reporting to Parliament every quarter.
So the framework will be set, free of political interference and informed by prevailing scientific knowledge, by the Commission. But the Commission will not make policy. It will be up to the Government to deliver the range of policies needed to ensure that the UK stays on course towards the 2050 target.
And to help ensure that the Government does indeed deliver, we are proposing that each year, the Environment Secretary not only publishes a carbon budget report, but appears in Parliament to make a formal statement on progress. This event will provide the opportunity, as with the Chancellor's Budget, to set out strategy and publish any new measures thought necessary to attain the Commission's targets.
The Government's proposals are proof that after nine years of neglecting the issue they are still not taking it seriously. Climate Change is a threat we cannot ignore. That is why today we are stepping up our campaign for the Government to introduce a real and worthwhile Climate Change Bill in the Queen's Speech and launching a campaign called "Can I Have the Bill please". By e-mailing email@example.com, you can register your support, and we will forward your views to the Prime Minister in the hope that he is listening.
The writer is leader of the Conservative Party