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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 15:08 GMT
UK 'worldbeater' at saving climate
Smoke BBC
The UK believes its climate plans are hard to beat
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, says the government's plans for tackling global warming are a world best.

Speaking at the launch of the UK Climate Change Programme, Mr Meacher called it "by far the most thorough and far-reaching programme of any country in the world".

We are certainly in range of meeting our domestic goal of cutting CO2 by 20%

Michael Meacher
Mr Meacher, who leaves shortly for the international climate conference in The Hague, said the UK was on course to cut six greenhouse gases twice as deeply as it had promised under the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate agreement.

And he was confident the government would also reach its pre-election promise to cut carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, by a fifth by 2010.

The protocol binds the UK to greenhouse cuts of 12.5%, compared with 1990 levels, by between 2008 and 2012.

Mr Meacher told the BBC: "We are setting out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 23% below 1990 levels - that is more than 10% beyond our Kyoto target.

"We are certainly in range of meeting our domestic goal of cutting CO2 by 20%.

Global problem

"We quantify the emissions that will deliver a cut of 19% and no doubt other policies which are unquantifiable, like action by local authorities, voluntary action by industry and public awareness campaigns, will give us the rest."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said there were other plans which would help to cut pollution, including agreements with European car manufacturers that would save millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.

Meacher BBC
Michael Meacher: Bullish
And he dismissed remarks that the recent pre-Budget statement would encourage car use, and therefore pollution.

But Mr Meacher said an effective international response to climate change was needed, and set out the UK's goals for The Hague conference, which brings together about 170 countries.

"We want agreement on four main issues," he said. "Emissions trading, selling the rights to pollute between countries, must remain supplemental to action at home to cut emissions.

"There must be legally-binding provisions to ensure compliance with the protocol. If developing countries are to be involved, they must be offered incentives on technology transfer, capacity-building and other measures.

"And we must have a tight definition of carbon sinks like forests. A loose definition could swamp the emission savings made under the rest of the protocol."

Sticking to science

Carbon sinks are one of the hottest issues at The Hague, with the US and its supporters arguing that they should be allowed to set off the CO2 absorbed by forests against the amounts they emit.

Mr Meacher told BBC News Online: "Sinks do have a role in sequestering CO2, but we must be extremely cautious about sticking to the science."

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If the US and its allies cannot agree with the UK, the European Union and other countries which argue for a very restricted place for carbon sinks, the meeting could reach deadlock. The organisers hope the meeting will lead to industrialised countries ratifying the protocol, allowing it to take practical effect.

Mr Meacher said: "The EU intends to ratify it by 2002. We're also extremely keen to have the US on board, if not by 2002 then by soon after. I'm not one of those people who say 'stuff America, we'll go ahead without you'. It will be infinitely better for the world if the US is involved."

He said everyone knew the Kyoto target, of emission cuts averaging 5.2% globally on 1990 levels, was not remotely adequate.

"If we allow the developing countries to pursue their own development," he said, "we are probably talking of cutting greenhouse gases by 90%. The implications are mind-blowing."

Greenpeace said the programme Mr Meacher had announced did little to break the economy's dependence on fossil fuels, or to build up renewable energy. It said the reductions he was counting on were "accidental", and resulted from the decline of the UK coal industry.

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13 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Climate talks search for progress
11 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
'Massive' pollution cuts needed
24 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Blair defends green record
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