Gordon Brown announced he was backing the campaign to eliminate wasteful plastic bags in a wide-ranging speech setting ambitious climate-change targets for Britain.
The Prime Minister said he was calling a forum of supermarkets, the British Retail Consortium and other groups urgently to assess how they could end the use of disposable bags.
Speaking two weeks before the Bali conference on climate change, which he said would start two years of hard bargaining over cuts in carbon, Mr Brown warned that rich countries, including the US and Britain, may have to increase their targets for cuts in emissions to 80 per cent.
Mr Brown surprised eco-campaigners by announcing that the targets could mean Britain would have to supply 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and wave power by 2020. There has been scepticism among Greenpeace leaders that these will not be met unless a dramatic investment in renewables is made.
Mr Brown said Britain would plan for more wind farms, and wave and tidal schemes pending the expected go-ahead for more nuclear power stations in the new year.
The Prime Minister told a conference held by the WWF charity in London that he was asking a new independent UK climate- change committee whether Britain should increase its statutory commitment to reduce carbon emissions from 60 per cent to 80 per cent, and to include aviation emissions for the first time.
The Climate Change Bill before Parliament will set a target to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. But Mr Brown warned that Britain and other governments, including the Bush administration, may have to go further. He said they needed to match the urgency highlighted by the International Energy Agency that "business as usual" would lead to increases in carbon emissions of 60 per cent. "Developed countries may have to reduce their emissions by up to 80 per cent. We will put this evidence to the committee on climate change and ask it to advise us ... whether our own domestic target should be tightened up to 80 per cent."
The independent committee will be asked to examine "whether and how international aviation emissions could be included in the UK's carbon budgets ".
On cars, the Prime Minister said a report by Professor Julia King confirmed new technology could halve emissions by 2030. The EU was aiming to introduce a mandatory efficiency standard of 130g per kilometre for carbon emissions for cars by 2012 but Mr Brown said Britain would press for a second ambitious EU target of 100g per kilometre by 2020.
The climate change challenge facing the world, he said, required a fourth technological revolution as great as the invention of the steam engine, the internal combustion engine and the microprocessor.
His speech was praised by environmental groups for "getting serious" about climate change. But critics said the Government was likely to fail to meet Labour's own 2010 policy goal for a 20 per cent cut in carbon emissions. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, said yesterday it was likely to hit 16 per cent.
Simon Retallack, head of climate change for the IPPR think- tank, said: "The Prime Minister needs to take the serious action needed to achieve it and ensure that a commitment to tackling climate change is at the heart of all government departments."
Greenpeace warned: "There will need to be a house-clearing in some Whitehall departments, where too many officials have blocked progress on renewables and energy efficiency for too long."
The Tory environment spokesman, Peter Ainsworth, said: "Gordon Brown's record on the environment so far has consisted of missing targets, then scrapping them, then cutting the budgets that deal with them."
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies