Leading article: A Government that is not green enough

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David Cameron is reported to have resisted pressure from some Cabinet ministers to water down Britain's emissions reduction targets. The Government will announce today that it will act on the recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and ensure that our national emissions fall by 50 per cent on 1990 levels by 2025. The Prime Minister has won praise from Greenpeace for his "strong intervention" on behalf of the environment.

So can we assume the Prime Minister's pledge that this will be "the greenest government ever" is on course to be met? Sadly not. The acceptance of the CCC's advice is certainly welcome. But there is another side to this Government's environmental record that should not be obscured by this announcement.

This Government has authorised the use of "hydraulic fracturing", a technique that some scientists warn is highly damaging to the environment, to search for natural gas in the countryside near Blackpool. Ministers have also given the go-ahead to drilling for oil in the deep sea off Britain's coast, despite the dangers exposed by last year's spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coalition's anti-regulation drive has put many environmental safeguards in jeopardy. The Green Investment Bank is disappointingly limited. Treasury funding for carbon capture has been reduced. And in the commitment on the carbon budget there is reported to be a get-out clause that allows these targets to be reviewed if our European peers fail to reduce their own emissions.

Emissions reduction targets, even with get-out clauses, are worthwhile because they send a signal to potential investors in green industries. Yet more important are the practical emission-reducing policy decisions that are needed to ensure those targets are met. Though they will deliver long-term benefits, these decisions are likely to be unpopular, or costly, in the immediate term. A government's willingness to enact these tough measures, and make the public case for them, is a truer test of an administration's green credentials than the setting of long-term targets. By that standard, Mr Cameron's first year in office has fallen well short of his ambitious pledge.

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