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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 17:59 GMT


'Go green, get richer'

A silver lining in global warming?

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The UK is on course to make significant cuts in its emissions of the gases that are causing climate change, according to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Mr Prescott, who is also Environment Secretary, was speaking at the launch of a consultation paper designed to help the debate on how Britons can live up to their obligations.

The legally binding target set at the Kyoto climate change conference in December 1997 obliges Britain to cut its emisions of the main greenhouse gases to 12.5% below their 1990 levels.

That target must be met by 2012 at the latest.

But the government also promised in its manifesto to reduce emissions of the chief culprit, carbon dioxide (CO2), by 20% by 2010.

Mr Prescott said the consultation paper showed the 2012 target was "well within reach", and the manifesto commitment "achievable".

Emissions heading down

He said emissions were already 7% below their 1990 levels, although gross domestic product was 13% higher - something for which he said the previous government deserved some credit.

And he said warmer homes, better transport and more efficient companies were some of the benefits the country would reap in reaching the targets.

"Energy efficient companies are more competitive", said the deputy prime minister. "Better transport systems will be only good for our economy, and our society.

"And well-insulated homes will be more comfortable and cheaper to live in".

[ image: 'Gain not pain' is the message]
'Gain not pain' is the message
Mr Prescott said he had a simple rule of thumb. "If there is a hard way and an easy way of doing something, for God's sake let's choose the easy way".

"This debate is about gain, not pain", he said. And he promised the government would not introduce policies that would damage the country's competitiveness, or have an unacceptable social cost.

One policy under consideration is an energy tax on industry and business.

This would probably be made fiscally neutral, by cutting employers' national insurance contributions.

But the programme outlined in the consultation paper will require change, not only by industry and business, but by transport and individuals as well.

Different policy drivers

The Environment Minister Michael Meacher said policy would be driven from several directions.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher explains the plans to Alex Kirby
The government's integrated transport strategy and its pledge to drive up the price of fuel would play a large part in curbing emissions from motor vehicles.

"We are not saying to anyone 'you cannot or must not use your car' ", said Mr Meacher.

"What we are saying is 'please think first about whether you could walk, or go by bike, or perhaps use public transport' ".

He confirmed that the government was considering imposing a lower tax rate (vehicle excise duty) for greener cars.

And it was not ruling out the introduction of congestion charging, to discourage motorists from entering city centres.

Mr Meacher said industry and business stood to make large gains by cutting emissions through the use of renewable energy (like solar and wind power), and from energy efficiency.

Householders could play their part, for example by installing cavity wall insulation and buying low-energy lightbulbs.

Simple ways to save

He said people could save as well by using more efficient condensing boilers, which conserve energy in the way that a saucepan with a lid boils more quickly.

"Even remembering not to leave your TV on standby, but switching it off completely, saves energy.

Andrew Warren: "We should be looking at everything"
Director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, Andrew Warren, said it was vital to remember that the debate was not about meeting targets.

It was about "what ministers describe as the single most serious environmental problem facing humanity".

"What we should be doing", said Mr Warren, "is not just trying to meet the targets and saying 'phew! We just got there' ".

"We should be looking at everything that is feasible to do, and doing that".

"There are all sorts of areas where we could do far more than the government has identified".

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