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United Kingdom

British leadership on climate change -- Impassioned pledge from Blair

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Tackling climate change will be a priority for the UK's presidencies of both the G8 nations and the EU next year, promises British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a passionate speech to business and environmentalists in London last month, he said that climate change is the world's greatest environmental challenge.

"Apart from a diminishing handful of sceptics, there is a virtual worldwide scientific consensus on the scope of the problem," he said. Blair stressed that tackling climate change presents business opportunities and need not impede economic growth. "Between 1990 and 2002, the UK economy grew by 36% while greenhouse gas emissions fell by around 15%," he said.

Lead by example

Efforts to stabilise the climate will need to go much further than the Kyoto Protocol, Blair said. Next year he wants to see the G8 push for cleaner energy technologies. This involves investing on a large scale in existing technologies and developing new low carbon technologies for the longer term like PV, fuel cells and carbon sequestration. His G8 strategy would be to agree the basic science and the threat it poses, speed up progress towards creating new technologies to meet the threat, and engage in discussions with fast developing countries such as China and India.

Meantime, the UK and other countries need to lead by example, he said. Britain is on track to meet its Kyoto target of a 12.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but will have to do more to reach its more ambitious domestic commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010.

In Europe, the EU-wide emissions trading scheme to be established next year will be the most cost effective way of reducing carbon emissions, he said. And next year, Blair says the UK will use its EU presidency to argue for aviation to be brought under the emissions trading program.

Howard's end

The day before Blair's speech, Conservative opposition leader Michael Howard vied to become the nation's champion of renewables and action on climate change. He criticised Blair for not bringing America into the international fold, and suggested that he would be better qualified to persuade Washington to sign up to Kyoto.

On renewables, Howard accused the government of "betting the farm on onshore wind" and neglecting offshore wind, biomass, solar, wave and tidal power. He claimed the Conservatives are not against onshore wind. "But we believe that communities must be won over, not walked over."

Greenpeace, however, dubs Howard's party a serious impediment in the fight against global warming. "Conservative councillors have tried to scupper wind projects across the country while Mr Howard himself has shared a platform with prominent anti-wind campaigners like David Bellamy, who denies global warming is even real," comments Greenpeace's Jim Footner. Bellamy, an environmentalist and television personality, currently fronts a fierce campaign against development of wind power in Britain.

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