Norman Baker and Oliver Letwin: The environment should not be exploited for political gain

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The Independent Online

This time it will be different. The ritual hand-wringing will simply not do any more. The grave threat to us all that climate change poses requires a new and more urgent political response. Normal politics is simply not delivering the sort of action we need as a nation to take.

That is why we believe that all three parties should come together to form a cross-party agreement on the way forward.

We announce today that we intend to seek such an agreement. We urge Margaret Beckett and the Government to join us. We believe it is possible to reach a large degree of consensus. All three parties accept the science, all three support the Kyoto process, and all three are committed to a cut of 60 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

But there is no reason why we should not go beyond this. We both support the concept of year-on-year carbon reduction requirements, an annual report to Parliament on progress, and independent verification of that progress.

There are also many shared policy positions across the three parties, such as the need to invest in energy efficiency, or to include aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme.

Of course, there are legitimate policy differences, such as on issues like nuclear power. But that should not stop us laying a solid foundation, even a couple of storeys, on which we can then add our own structures. The simple truth is that up to now, the Government has all too often held back from taking the decisions it knows in its heart are right and necessary to tackle climate change, for fear of those sometimes difficult decisions being exploited by its opponents for short-term political gain.

The agreement we are suggesting will make taking at least a few of those difficult decisions a bit easier. A cross-party agreement on climate change is vital if we are to tackle the real and growing threat we all face.

Coming together in this way is, we believe, mature and responsible politics, and holds out the hope, at last, of real political progress. The people of this country want their politicians to rise to this challenge. We intend to try to do so.

Norman Baker is the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman.

Oliver Letwin is the shadow Secretary for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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