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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 October 2006, 12:26 GMT
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On the Politics Show, Sunday 29 October 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed the Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron on the eve of the publication of Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the economics of climate change.

David Cameron
Ask yourself, would Gordon Brown be spending as much time on the environment as he is now, if I hadn't raised the issue so strongly over the last year? I think the answer to that is pretty clear.
David Cameron


JOHN SOPEL: David Cameron, the Stern Review is coming out on Monday, it's likely to say that the world could be tilting in to almost apocalyptic style recession, do you buy in to that vision.

DAVID CAMERON: Well, we have to wait and see exactly what the report says. But I think if you look at all the science that has been produced and the consensus amongst scientists, look at for instance the Al Gore film, I think it is clear we're reaching a tipping point. We have to act. That's one of the reasons I've been pushing the government towards having a climate change bill and that's why we need to have a bill urgently and take action urgently and I think that's right.

JON SOPEL: Now, one of the things that's being advocated for example, by Friends of the Earth, they're asking for legally binding 3% reductions annually, they also want to cut a politician's salary if they fail to deliver. Now your picture is all over their website. Do you support that?

DAVID CAMERON: Well what we, and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth agree about is that we should have a Climate Change Bill. We need an organisation in that Bill to monitor climate change and to set annual limits and then to judge the government's performance against that. Where we part company is they've said it must be 3% a year and we've said that we need the independent body to judge what the annual limit should be. So we're very much together with them on some of the things that they say but I think actually setting out in advance, 3% cuts isn't practical. We might need to look at different annual limits but in order to get to the same end goal, which is a 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

JON SOPEL: But what happens if you have three years of exceptionally cold winters where people are burning a lot of fossil fuels because they're trying to stay warm? You're not going to hit your targets.

DAVID CAMERON: Well, that's why, if you've got an independent body, you can use information like that and it will issue reports and there will be an annual carbon report debated in parliament, to say how you've done. I think that almost underlines the importance of having the independent body but we need to change our political culture in this country so that the annual carbon report, how we're doing in terms of cutting carbon emissions, you know is as important as the annual Budget and the annual Spending Round; it's that sort of cultural change that we need to make this subject as important as I believe it is.

JON SOPEL: But the government will say, they're setting targets, they're setting targets that are more realistic because they're over - staged over a number of years. It's a good headline to say we'll have an annual carbon review, but actually the reality of the science is, you need to do this over a slightly longer term basis.

DAVID CAMERON: I think there's a real problem with the government's approach, which is that I think they're going to argue for targets for each decade, up to 2050, now we know that doesn't work. How do we know it doesn't work? Because it's been the Government's approach up to now. They had a target which has been in three election manifestos to cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2010, they've now dropped that target. To me that's proof that the sort of decade target doesn't work. We've got to do something differently; we've got to learn from our mistakes. You know, carbon emissions have gone up over the last ten years under this Government. If we don't change our approach, we're not actually going to hit that 2050 target.

JON SOPEL: But the Tories have voted against things like the Climate Change levy which the government say, that's our main instrument, cutting carbon emissions.

DAVID CAMERON: ...The problem with the climate change...

JON SOPEL: The Conservative Party voted against the climate change levy.

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, but we've now said how we'd improve it. Right? And at the moment, the climate change levy is if you like a charge on energy use, rather than a charge on carbon. So we need actually to turn the climate change levy in to the proper carbon levy that it ought to be and we've said how we'd do that and I think that's an important change.

JON SOPEL: But the government would say it's going to save seven million tons in carbon emissions between now and 2010. Now that is a concrete step. Let me ask you what concrete steps...


JON SOPEL: .. you would take.

DAVID CAMERON: I think there are a number. You've got to understand that if we're going to deal with climate change, you've got to look at all the sectors. You've got to look at electricity generation, housing, transport, business. Let's just take one, transport. One of the things we've said is let's set some very aggressive targets for reducing the emissions from cars. Then business knows it has to produce new models with lower emissions and sell them to consumers.

So that's one area we could make a difference - yes, we're going to have to look at tax. We've said that we're going to raise the percentage of tax that comes from green taxes, so we can actually re-balance the tax system. That means we've got to look at things like air transport, like the gas guzzling cars. We'll come up with those ideas, closer to a general election but green taxes will go up. So that's two specific examples.

JON SOPEL: Well no, you're specifically saying what is a target, you're not specifically saying what are the policies you'll introduce.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I am. An increase in green taxes, that's a policy. A tough target for carbon emissions from cars, that's a policy. A change in the way that we do energy in this country, so that we actually allow the green energies to come through, but have nuclear as a last resort. That is a policy. So those are specific examples .

JON SOPEL: The Liberal Democrats for example, the Liberal Democrats have said for example that they might charge gas guzzling cars two thousand pounds vehicle excise duty. We've heard about the Borough of Richmond talking about introducing measures where to park a big car you're going to have to pay a lot extra. Now, would you support specific measures like that?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes. Absolutely. Westminster, a Conservative controlled council does free parking for battery controlled cars. So let's also look at the positive things we can do to help people make green choices in their lives, as well as actually looking at the issues of tax. I think it's quite important that the issue of climate change - yes it involves tough choices and I'm prepared to make tough choices - but it also, if it's only about doom and gloom and taxes, we're never actually going to sort it out so let's try and encourage people to make green choices in their lives about transport, about energy use about housing.

Let's encourage those things and get people to see going green as a positive benefit. You know, if you put the solar panels on your roof, you cut your own energy bill but you also do good for the planet. That's a good thing. Let's try and be a bit more uplifting about this, not too gloomy.

JON SOPEL: What about stopping airport expansion?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think, I don't want, I don't actually want to stop people going on a family holiday, to restrict air travel but we have to look at transport as one of the areas and if that means...

JON SOPEL: But is that willing the ends but not the means.

DAVID CAMERON: No, it isn't. If it means putting a tax on air travel, then yes, that's something we'd be prepared to do. But let's make that decision after we've actually taken the lead in politics and actually said, let's have annual carbon emissions, let's make budgetary decisions closer to budgetary times. It doesn't make sense for me, in opposition to try and write the 2010 Budget in 2006. It's just not sensible.

JON SOPEL: No, but the latest budget estimates suggest that aeroplanes will account for a third of all carbon emissions by 2050. Therefore, if you're going - one of the most critical areas is airports, aeroplanes. Why can't we have specifics on that?

DAVID CAMERON: Well, because I think it isn't sensible to set taxes for a budget in 2010 today. I think that's not right. We've also got to look at all the things we can do in terms of air travel. Let's make air travel a part of the emissions trading scheme.

JON SOPEL: I'm not asking you to say what tax will go up by but do you want to, do you think that taxes need to rise substantially on this specific area.

DAVID CAMERON: I think Green taxes as a whole need to go up and I think we need to be very careful that the Green taxes we put up aren't too regressive. Some green taxes do hit the poorest in our society, so we have to think about that very carefully before we make taxation decisions.

JON SOPEL: I'm trying to be specific about particular aeroplanes. If you have got the situation where they are going to account for a third of all carbon emissions, it seems logically that you would need to take some pretty drastic action there. What about raising taxes in that specific area?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I've said green taxes as a whole and I don't want to get more specific than that in terms of air travel. I've said I'd be prepared to take those decisions, that it may mean taxing air travel. I'm quite prepared to entertain that, but the thing is Jon, I have to choose how to develop policies in the right way over this parliament.

We've said very clearly, here's out Climate Change Bill, much better than the Government's one, don't water it down. We've said let's increase the percentage of green taxes, again something that the government hasn't said or done. We've said let's have a proper energy review where we have all sorts of green energy freed up and allowed to come through, something the Government hasn't done. But then we must be free to develop the specifics that go with those directions over time.

JON SOPEL: Now, I should say that we've done some polling about who would be the kindest to the environment out of you, Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell, and you'll be pleased to learn that you come top of that. But, I just wonder whether people think well, you're talking a good game here but there's still so many specifics that we don't know about. Do you believe you have to be much more specific between now and polling day?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, of course we will be more specific. We're developing policies, we developed the idea of the Climate Change Bill, that's something that we've been talking about over the last year. But actually Jon, I would say that raising the profile of these issues, talking about them, demonstrating through your own party how much you actually care about them, can make a difference. I mean, ask yourself, would Gordon Brown be spending as much time on the environment as he is now, if I hadn't raised the issue so strongly over the last year? I think the answer to that is pretty clear.

JON SOPEL: Are you worried that your commission that's looking in to these issues might come up with the same sort of proposals as your tax reform commission and that you might have to suddenly start back peddling fast?

DAVID CAMERON: I'm sure that Zac Goldsmith and John Gummer who are passionate environmentalists, I'm sure they'll come up with ideas that will be too much for us to take. I hope they'll come up with lots of things we can take but you know there are two ways of doing policy Jon.

You can either do it you know, inside your own party, don't invite anybody in and come up with some very boring modest suggestions or you can throw open the doors and say to people from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and Zac Goldsmith and others, come in, give us your advice, give us your wisdom, challenge us. See what ideas you think we ought to come up with and then we have to make the judgement about whether to take them on. That's the exciting way, not just to develop policy but also to open up politics.

JON SOPEL: And what about taking the advice of the public? Turning to Iraq now, ICM poll this week that public opinion is really hardening against British troops being there. 61% of voters said they want British troops to leave this year. Do you?

DAVID CAMERON: I don't want to set an artificial timetable. I think it's incredibly difficult what our troops are doing in Iraq. The situation on the ground is obviously very, very tough and we have General Sir Richard Dannatt to thank for actually giving us the accurate information that Ministers weren't really giving us, but I don't think we should set an artificial timetable. We should do everything we can to build up the Iraqi army and police force and security forces to help security in that country and stability in that country and then our forces can come home.

JON SOPEL: What is mission accomplished? What is mission complete?

DAVID CAMERON: I think the maximum amount of stability in that country so people have a chance to get on in their lives and in their businesses and at home. That must be what we should aim for. But I think we have to be honest that it's been much more difficult than people thought, it's hugely difficult on the ground, the stakes have been made, we have to learn from all of those mistakes and show a certain amount of humility for what has been attempted and what, you know what may not be achieved. But stability in Iraq and a chance for those people to enjoy a stable democracy that all of us take for granted; that has always been our goal.

JON SOPEL: Now you're launching your young adult trust on Monday, what's all that about?

DAVID CAMERON: Well what it's about is something I think is lacking in our country which is an opportunity for young people to come together, to do things together, to learn about community service and public service and to learn about what it means to grow from being a child in to an adult. People who did national service, they always say to me, well whatever you thought about it, it was something we did together.

It didn't matter whether you were rich or poor or from the town or the country. I'm not suggesting bringing back national service but I think the idea of a national school leaver programme, something young people do together, from different parts of the country, about community service, about taking on the responsibilities of adulthood is a good idea.

JON SOPEL: Just to end, I just want to go back to where we started on the environment. If you win the election, are you going to put a wind turbine on Number 10 Downing Street?

DAVID CAMERON: If they'd let me, yeah.

JON SOPEL: And panels, solar panels.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think if they'd let me, I would. I'm doing it on my house in North Kensington. I think they're going on quite soon. I think it would be a great idea because one of the things about the environment is it - yes, the government has got to give the lead. Yes, politicians have to give a lead, but it's something all of us can do something about. I don't do nearly enough things in my own life, I expect you probably don't either. But where we can act and where we want to act, whether that's solar panels or a windmill, we should go for it.

JON SOPEL: And when the bookies say you're now odds on favourite to become the next Prime Minister at the next election, I should say. Do you think it's kind of almost there?

DAVID CAMERON: No. I think that there's a... I think British politics is very interesting again. I think there's a real contest. I think the Conservative Party under my leadership is back in the running, because as I said in my conference speech, people are not going to jump out of the arms of Tony Blair and in to the hands of the Conservative Party. We're going to have to win their trust, day after day, week after week, month after month, by the things that we do, the things that we say, by the policies that we develop. I'm determined we'll do it because I want to give this country a better chance and a better government than it has today. But we've got a huge amount of work to do.

JON SOPEL: David Cameron, thank you very much.



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NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 29 October 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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