In the proposed coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, Gordon Brown is facing his first test since pledging to put Britain at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change. A proposal to build the UK's first coal-fired power station in more than 30 years will land on his desk in the next few weeks.
New coal would fly in the face of advice from the UN's top climate scientists, who warn that global emissions must peak and then fall dramatically within the next 100 months to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. Even Mr Brown's "special adviser" on climate change, Al Gore, said in August: "I can't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power stations." Greenpeace couldn't have put it better. The only question remaining is if the Prime Minister is listening.
Mr Brown's decision on new coal will determine in large part whether Britain can meet its global warming targets, which the Prime Minister suggested would be revised upwards to an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050.
Giving the green light to Kingsnorth and other stations - will lock Britain into huge carbon emissions for decades and signal Mr Brown's surrender on the 80 per cent target.
E.on is planning to build a plant at Kingsnorth that will emit more than 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year; and waiting behind Kingsnorth are proposals for at least seven further new coal stations. This generation of coal-fired power stations will account for half of Britain's permissible carbon emissions in 2050 if Mr Brown goes for a 80 per cent target. The hope that the Kingsnorth plant will be "ready" to adopt Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology in the future is a triumph of hope over experience. A UN report into the viability of CCS predicted that it won't be able to play any significant role for decades.
The irony is that last month, Mr Brown restated his commitment to meet the EU target of producing 20 per cent of all our energy from renewable sources by 2020. If Britain meets this target, we would never need dinosaurs like Kingsnorth.
John Sauven is the executive-director of Greenpeace UKReuse content