Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

UK urged to 'speed up' on climate

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Hydrogen fuel cell (SPL)
Mr Lambert urged investment in clean technologies such as hydrogen fuel

The UK government has been urged to speed up the pace of action on climate change by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Its director-general Richard Lambert said the government needed to cut emissions faster and create a framework for low-carbon investment.

He said the recession must not divert governments or businesses away from the massive challenge of climate change.

Mr Lambert was talking at a CBI climate change summit in London.

"We must not let the economic crisis become an excuse for inaction on climate change," he said.

"Now, more than ever, we need to secure a binding EU climate change deal or the opportunity to make the transition to a low carbon economy will slip through our fingers."

This, he said, would waste the chance to create jobs in an efficient low carbon economy with secure clean energy supplies.

Mr Lambert said that, on carbon capture, the government's record had lacked urgency.

He called on ministers to use the proceeds from auctioning EU carbon permits to power firms to invest in clean technologies (the cash is currently destined for Treasury funds).

Clean technology

He said the government was not spending nearly enough on clean technology research.

And he explained he found it incomprehensible that, given climate change was our number one long-term challenge, our publicly funded low-carbon research budget was one of the lowest in Europe - and only a fraction of the amount going into defence research.

A straw poll of delegates at the CBI's climate change summit suggested that only a handful trusted either the government or the Conservatives to deliver their promises on cutting emissions.

The overwhelming majority of delegates said they believed their own firms could meet the carbon targets they were likely to be set.

It was a remarkable turn-around. Just a few years ago, the old CBI boss Digby Jones was warning ministers not to sacrifice British business on the altar of its green credentials.

But Philip Green, chief executive of United Utilities, counselled against the illusion of green progress.

"There are still far too many board members who did not remotely understand that scale of the challenge of climate change," he said.

And other delegates warned that investors were demanding such high rates of return that it was often difficult to plan for the kinds of long-term changes needed to tackle global warming.

Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband and his Conservative opposite number Greg Clarke both told the summit that their parties would achieve the carbon cuts needed to meet their obligations in the battle to stabilise climate change.

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