Tony Blair: 'We must do more to beat climate change'

'We will cut our emissions by 2012 by almost twice the targets set by Kyoto'
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The Independent Online

The challenges of global integration need to be met with stronger, more effective global, multilateral action. No single country is able to tackle climate change. All major countries need to act, if we are to tackle it effectively. So if some countries stand back, it won't work and others will question why they should act. This is why I have placed so much emphasis this year on trying to rebuild an international consensus on climate change. In other words, we need to think globally as well as act locally. We are doing both.

We are acting to cut carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. We will cut our emissions by 2012 by almost twice our Kyoto targets. And we have set an ambitious long-term target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

But it is true that currently we can only be sure that we will achieve about two-thirds of our planned reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. Carbon emissions have gone up about 3 per cent since 1997. But emissions would have gone up by 8 per cent if it were not for the actions we have taken under our climate change programme. But that is no excuse. So the Government is conducting reviews both of our climate change programme and of our energy policy. We are determined to do all we can to meet our 2010 target. We will need a national effort to meet this goal. The Government must and will lead the way but we cannot achieve it alone. We need businesses and everybody, as consumers and passengers and drivers, to help achieve it too.

Greenpeace have argued that we should use less coal. But it is just unrealistic to expect countries with growing energy needs and huge supplies not to use it. The challenge we must face is to make coal clean. And the UK is leading the way in doing so, by working with the EU to develop demonstration power stations in China for carbon capture and storage.

Greenpeace have claimed that I have instructed airports to expand despite aviation being a major contributor to climate change. Nonsense. Airport companies want to expand to meet the increasing demand from people to travel. As I said on Monday, globalisation is a result of the choices of individuals. Our responsibility is to try to reduce the downsides from this growth in aviation. Aviation emissions are growing. We believe that emissions trading is the best way to reduce them. It sets an absolute cap on emissions and encourages innovation.

Greenpeace have also said that we have failed to halt the growth in greenhouse gas emissions from traffic. Whereas in fact, as part of our climate change programme, we have just announced the renewable transport fuels obligation, which will mean that 5 per cent of petrol and diesel will be made from bio-fuels. This will cut a million tons of carbon per annum from road transport emissions by 2010. This is the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road every year.

So we are acting locally but we also need to think globally. Even if the UK achieves every emissions target we set ourselves, we will have tackled a mere 2 per cent of the problem. That is why international action and consensus is so important.

The Kyoto protocol entered into force this year. Kyoto shows how an international system of capping emissions, with a trading market to help meet the caps cost-effectively, can drive substantial emissions reductions. Under Kyoto, 15 of the EU countries including the UK will deliver a 16 per cent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 compared with business as usual.

I could talk about nothing but the Kyoto protocol. That way, maybe people would believe that I am still committed to it. Which I am. But as I have been saying since 2001, Kyoto is only a first step. Even if all countries, including the US, signed up and met their 2012 targets, this would only stabilise emissions - not cut them, which we need to.

So, we need an international framework and emissions targets which take us beyond Kyoto's 2012 commitments. That is the "green" thing to do. Some people have said that I have undermined the idea of post-2012 targets by saying that countries would not agree to them if they meant choking off economic growth. On the contrary, I am showing the path we need to follow if we are going to agree internationally binding targets which all can sign up to. Because countries like the United States (which represents 25 per cent of all emissions), India and China (which is building a new power station every week) will only sign up to those targets if they feel they can be met without slowing down their development - development which is needed to lift two billion people out of desperate poverty.

And what we also need, if we are going to meet those targets as well as increase prosperity, is new technologies and cleaner energy. Too much of the debate over climate change has become polarised between those who advocate compulsory targets and those who advocate technology. For me this is a false choice. The technology is the means by which we will achieve those targets.

We have made real progress this year, taking the opportunity of our EU and G8 presidencies to build an international consensus both on the need for a new international framework after Kyoto, and on the technology we need to reduce emissions.

At the Gleneagles summit in July, leaders from the G8 countries plus China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, acknowledged that climate change was a serious and long-term challenge and that we have to act with resolve and urgency now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On 9 July, The Independent's own Michael McCarthy called it "the most important step to counter climate change since the signing of the Kyoto protocol in December 1997".

The post-Gleneagles climate change dialogue we have established has helped to lay a constructive foundation for the Montreal UN climate change conference next month, by bringing together countries who had serious disagreements when they met in Buenos Aires one year ago. Montreal will begin the formal discussion on how we can work together beyond 2012.

We have also made practical international progress in putting into use both new and existing technologies which will reduce emissions. The G8 agreed a plan of action to ensure that those technologies are brought out of the lab and put to use as soon as possible. The US has announced around $1bn in incentives for alternative fuel vehicles over the next 10 years. Canada, Italy, France and the UK all now have policies in place to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings. And the EU has agreed to develop a near-zero emissions coal power station in China.

So the new consensus we have built this year is making a difference. I am sure that it will also make a difference at the crucial meeting in Montreal which starts in 10 days, where we must start to shape an inclusive global solution to climate change after 2012.