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Programme highlights Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 17:01 GMT
Blair's 'green' crusade
The anti-road lobby remains to be convinced
Environmentalists seemed genuinely surprised today at the passion with which the prime minister tackled the problems of climate change and global warming.

In his second green speech within six months, Tony Blair produced a new Government contribution of 100 million to help develop renewable sources of energy, particularly solar power.

Mr Blair's remarks were not confined to the familiar language of the green movement. Not surprisingly, in the circumstances, he felt the need to take in the current crisis in the countryside, with a call for sustainable food production and the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

But the first and most striking fact was that something had got under Mr Blair's skin.

He produced a familiar catalogue of impending disaster - desertification, the destruction of tropical forests and coral reefs, and crop failure: the six warmest years of the last century, he pointed out, had occurred in the last decade.

Then he moved on to scare-stories closer to home - and of more immediate concern to domestic voters.

Stemming the tide

Second green speech in six months
Mr Blair quoted a Hadley Centre report that the UK can expect wetter winters, more summer droughts and extreme weather. Over the next century, England and Wales may have 10% more rain, and Scotland 20%.

There seemed no doubt that he felt personally moved by the spate of extreme weather in recent years.

The speech, sponsored by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, included a number of commitments for which the Green Lobby has been campaigning.

Elections permitting, Mr Blair wants to attend the so-called Rio Plus ten conference, on all aspects of sustainable development, in South Africa next year.

He also declared his wish to see the Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gases ratified.

Then came that promise of more money for renewable energy.

The new money was not just for solar power, but to 'boost offshore wind, kick start energy crops and bring on stream other new generation technologies.'

The link between these issues and a British countryside racked with anxiety about BSE, foot and mouth and economic decline is not immediately clear - except, as Mr Blair said - he said, 'that climate change and population growth have enormous implications for food production.'

Did something irritate the PM?
Yet these were matters that could not be ignored, with an election in sight. And the speech - at Chatham House in London - included one of his strongest attacks yet on the Common Agricultural Policy.

'The opportunity to change direction,' he said, is the silver lining in the European farming crisis.

Green credentials

Afterwards, the World at One asked Mr Blair how a cut in fuel duties would help the fight against global warming. Mr Blair defended the move, and said that overall - with measures like the climate change levy on industry - the Government's policy did demonstrate strong environmental credentials.

In an interview for the programme at Chatham House, the Environment Minister Michael Meacher said he had never heard Mr Blair so enthused by the subject.

And he gave an undertaking that Gordon Brown's budget tomorrow would - as the LibDems have always demanded - give the environmental impact of all policy changes.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Tony Blair
More extreme weather is predicted
Tony Blair
We need to invest in renewable energy
Tony Blair
The silver lining is to change the direction of the CAP
Tony Blair
Climate change levy demonstrates our 'green' credentials
Environment Minister Michael Meacher
We have never seen such a personal commitment from a PM before
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