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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports
"In the next decade we'll be expected to do more"
 real 28k

Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 12:53 GMT
UK set to slash greenhouse gases
The gases trap energy from the Sun
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The UK says it will cut its greenhouse emissions by almost twice as much as it is committed to do under an international agreement.

The promise came from the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who was unveiling the United Kingdom's draft blueprint for meeting emissions targets agreed under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The document is seen as an important indicator of the UK's determination to tackle the pollution which many scientists believe is responsible for the onset of climate change.

The UK has made two distinct promises on climate change. Under the protocol, it has signed up to a reduction (on their 1990 levels) of 12.5% in emissions of six gases by some time between 2008 and 2012.

The protocol, agreed under the terms of the United Nations climate change convention, commits developed nations to an average 5.2% reduction of the six gases.

Well ahead

But Mr Prescott, who is also Environment Secretary, said the UK would go far beyond its Kyoto promise.

He said emissions were expected to fall to 15% below their 1990 levels this year, though as the economy grew they would soon start rising again without further action.

He announced that the new policies in the blueprint would keep emissions heading downwards, cutting them by 21.5% by 2010.

The document is a draft, and is open for consultation until 2 June. A final programme will emerge later this year.

Will Tony Blair stick to his commitment?
The government's other commitment is domestic, not international, and was part of the manifesto on which the Labour party successfully campaigned in the 1997 general election.

It promises to reduce emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), by 20% from their 1990 levels by 2010.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has told Parliament this promise is "not negotiable". But not everybody is certain that the government will in the end achieve the 20% cut.

Mr Prescott said that, on the basis of policies that could be quantified, the draft programme would deliver a CO2 cut of 17.5%.

Other policies, for example local authority action, voluntary action by industry, and public awareness campaigns, "could" take the UK to the 20% goal.

If the government fails one way or another to achieve the 20% cut, it will be seen by its critics to have failed to redeem a crucial promise.

Crossing fingers

Friends of the Earth has called the commitment "the single most important green promise in Labour's manifesto."

And although Mr Prescott sounds confident enough of far outstripping the UK's Kyoto undertaking, he could still face problems.

Renewable energy has a part to play
The draft programme includes the effect of current policies such as the climate change levy, negotiated agreements with heavy energy users, voluntary agreements with car makers on cutting engine emissions, and the integrated transport White Paper.

There is also a commitment to produce 10% of the UK's electricity from renewable sources by 2010, a figure energy campaigners say is unrealistically low, and a new target to double the capacity of combined heat and power schemes by 2010.

Mr Prescott's confidence is unbounded. His ability to deliver, though, still depends on people and factors he cannot control.

New elements of the programme include:
  • improved home energy efficiency - from 2002, electricity and gas suppliers will have to encourage and help householders to save energy and cut their fuel bills
  • dealing with the impacts of climate change, for example by planning to cope with more regular flooding
  • giving "a clear signal to industry" that hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs, designed as ozone-friendlier replacements for CFCs) have no long-term future.
Mr Prescott also urged European countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol - something the UK itself has still to do.

He said: "Developed countries have an obligation to take a lead. Climate change results from our actions in the past, and we must lead the way in dealing with the consequences."

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