Blair gets serious on climate summit

US condemned for foot-dragging

Tony Blair yesterday condemned the United States and other industrialised nations for foot-dragging in the international campaign to tackle man- made climate change.

After the back-slapping and warmth with President Bill Clinton at the Denver G7 Summit over the weekend, he repeated his pointed criticism of the US at a meeting with Vice-President Al Gore in New York yesterday.

Britain is also trying, at the United Nations Earth Summit, to forge a new environment and development consensus between rich and poor countries, by urging the wealthy nations to reverse the decline in their foreign aid.

Mr Blair, accompanied to UN headquarters by no less than three of his Cabinet, condemned the US, plus Japan, Canada and Australia, for failing to deliver on commitments to stabilise rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide which comes from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

This pledge, which covers the period 1990 to 2000, was made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when all the developed nations signed a treaty to stabilise their annual CO2 emissions. But Britain, Germany and Russia are the only large economies keeping that promise - mainly because of disastrous economic decline in the case of Russia. The European Union as a whole is also on target to meet its stabilisation commitment, thanks to Britain and Germany cutting emissions.

"Some other countries cannot say the same, including some of the great industrialised nations," Mr Blair told prime ministers and presidents from several dozen nations attending the earth summit, a week-long special session of the UN General Assembly.

"To them I say this: our targets will not be taken seriously by the poorer countries until the richer countries are meeting them. The biggest responsibilities falls on those countries with the biggest emissions."

The US, which Mr Blair did not mention by name, has the biggest emissions of all. Developed countries have promised to cut their emissions after 2000 - by how much will be settled at a climate treaty conference in Kyoto, Japan, in December.

The EU is advocating a 15 to 20 per cent cut in annual emissions between 2000 and 2010, which would mean serious curbs in fossil fuel use and lifestyle changes. The US has not yet offered any figure, while Australia says it cannot begin to contemplate any cuts in its fast-rising emissions.

"We in Europe have put our cards on the table. It is time for the special pleading to stop and for others to follow suit. If we fail in Kyoto, we fail our children because the consequences will be felt in their lifetime," said Mr Blair, who also warned of rising sea levels and damaging climate and temperature shifts. It was a message repeated by several other EU prime ministers and presidents in New York.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Mr Blair said Britain would reverse the decline in UK foreign aid. Meanwhile, in behind-the-scenes negotiations at the summit, Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, was urging colleagues from other EU nations to make a joint commitment to raise overseas aid towards the UN's long-standing, but increasingly distant, target.

This target is for rich countries to give 0.7 per cent of their gross national product to the developing world. At the time of the Rio summit in 1992, the percentage being given was just under half this, at 0.34 per cent.

But although all the wealthy nations, except the US, pledged at Rio to move towards the target, they have moved further away since then. Foreign aid has fallen to just 0.27 per cent of developed-world GNP. Britain's has fallen similarly over this period and now stands at the average - 0.27 per cent of UK GNP.

This fall has soured preparations for this week's follow-up summit. Poor nations are asking how they can afford to tackle global environmental problems like tropical forest destruction and global warming when the rich world gives less and less help while consuming ever more natural resources and producing more and more greenhouse gas pollution. All this week there will be long and difficult negotiations between rich and poor nations on what the former should promise concerning the 0.7 per cent target. Britain's position is that the EU must take a lead in promising to reverse the aid decline.

But Britain has made it clear there can be no swift change in direction, because it is committed to sticking to the expenditure plans of the previous Tory government for the next two years.

Blair the traveller, page 4

Leading article, page 19

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