Letter: Greener than thou

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is good that the Foreign Office now treats impending climate change and sea-level rise seriously. ("The paradise isles on the edge of disaster", 10 October), after decades of indifference to global environmental crises, such as tropical deforestation, over-fishing and species extinction.

However, the UK is in danger of losing influence over other industrial nations as its pronouncements on their responsibility to cut greenhouse gas emissions take on an unattractive "holier than thou" tone. The exhortation of the Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett that Australia, Japan and the USA must agree tough reduction targets at the crucial climate change summit in Kyoto in eight weeks time may be right, but it would carry far more weight if the Government spent less time trumpeting its own (welcome) carbon dioxide reduction target of 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2010 and started implementing domestic programmes to reach that target.

There are a number of initiatives that must be undertaken in Britain, which would bring definite social and economic benefits, and yet none featured in either Labour's first Queen's Speech or its first Budget.

Transport is responsible for over a fifth of carbon dioxide pollution, and emissions are rising rapidly as traffic levels soar. Why, then, no legislation along the lines of the Road Traffic Reduction Bill, drafted by Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, and sponsored by Cynog Dafis MP? Why no tougher energy-efficiency standards, for buildings as well as vehicles?

A nationwide home energy conservation programme is an essential prerequisite for lowering carbon emissions. And it would help eradicate the scandal of fuel poverty in this country, suffered by 15 million people, prevent some 30,000 people from dying every year because they are cold and damp as their homes leak energy and waste warmth, while creating between 25,000 and 50,000 jobs. Why was the windfall tax not used to kickstart such investment?

The long-term funds for such a programme, for building up a modern public transport network and for developing clean renewable energy supplies such as offshore wind, wave and solar power, can easily be found. End company car, and free fuel and parking, subsidies worth pounds 550m a year, along with the pounds 1.5bn tax breaks given to oil companies annually to find more oil.

Above all, introduce a graduated carbon tax across the European Union so that the dirtiest fuels are taxed the most, and the cleanest the least, and commensurately reduce taxes on labour. Not only would carbon emissions fall, but so would the price of employment, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU.

Why also does the Treasury resist ending the farcical anomaly whereby energy-saving materials are VAT taxed at 17.5 per cent whereas energy use is taxed at 5 per cent?

Simply lecturing other nations about their obvious failings is no way to prepare for Kyoto.



Friends of the Earth

London N1