Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 10:35 UK

Parties 'fail on climate change'

Smoke pours from a power station chimney
A low carbon economy is essential to avoiding recession, the report says

The UK's leading environmental campaign groups have accused the main political parties of failing to prepare for the challenges of climate change.

The coalition of nine organisations says Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have switched focus from the green agenda to the economy.

Friends of the Earth and the National Trust are among those in the coalition.

The government has an incoherent and contradictory approach to green issues, its report says.

Waning leadership

Their report criticised the Conservatives for an "increasingly alarming" gap between their presentation on green issues and the substance of their policies.

The Liberal Democrats' traditional leadership on this issue has waned in the past year, it adds, but the party was also praised for its commitment to making the UK an energy independent and zero-carbon economy by 2050.

The coalition said the rise in fuel prices should have been used as a springboard to reduce the UK's dependency on fossil fuels.

The need for an ambitious approach to environmental policy has never been clearer
Stephen Hale, Green Alliance

And the report called on all the parties to say yes to meeting targets to source 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The government was praised for a number of initiatives such as the Climate Change Bill and avoiding a badger cull.

But the report claims that in the past 12 months politicians have focused their attentions on the economy at the expense of the environment.

It says: "The May local elections and the downturn were seen by some as marking the end of the environment as a public and political priority.

"That view is wrong. The public have not abandoned their concern for the environment."

'No vision'

Stephen Hale, director of environmental think tank the Green Alliance, said the only sustainable way out of a possible recession is to adopt policies that encourage a low-carbon economy.

Issues around energy, transport, land management and housing must be addressed, he said.

Mr Hale said: "None of the three main parties are currently showing the vision and courage to prepare the UK for the challenges ahead.

"There is no long-term route to prosperity and security unless our political leaders tackle climate change and protect the natural environment.

"In a time of rising fuel and food costs, the need for an ambitious approach to environmental policy has never been clearer."

'Greener and safer'

In response to the report, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said: "Government is committed to tackling environment issues and helping people through difficult economic times - it's not an either/or.

"Our drive to increase energy efficiency in homes throughout the country illustrates that."

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said: "We are continuing to take forward important policy proposals to make Britain greener and safer, including a major initiative on creating a low- carbon economy."

The coalition includes Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, National Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and the WWF.

Flooding compensation

Meanwhile, Mr Woolas has said it is "morally right" to help people whose homes are affected by flooding or coastal erosion.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he did not rule out direct compensation for families hit by the effects of climate change.

"If people have bought a house and the situation has changed then clearly it is morally right that they should be helped," said Mr Woolas.

However, he said a range of solutions would be needed for different parts of the country and indicated that people who bought houses they "reasonably would have known" were in high-risk areas were unlikely to be compensated.

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