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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
How green are the Tory blues?
By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

David Cameron
David Cameron has tried to focus on the Tories' green credentials
It all seems so long ago now.

Standing in a chilly Barnes wetland centre in December last year the shiny new Tory leader stared into the middle distance for the cameras, with the (photogenic) Zac Goldsmith and the (experienced) John Gummer at his side.

New Tory, new green.

Off to meet environmental charity leaders to hear what they had to say about climate change and wildlife.

The green groups were delighted to have the opportunity to bend his ear so early on, but even then, they were saying, they wanted to see some concrete plans behind the PR.

Of course then we had Dave in the Arctic, Dave gets a wind turbine - dismissed by sceptics as highly sophisticated PR.

One very experienced public relations executive pointed out: "The Arctic is one of the few natural locations in the world where you can get a flattering, pure white background - with the added appeal of huskies."

Walking the walk

But colleagues say he didn't have to do any of this, he made the environment such a priority because he really does walk the walk when it comes to environmental issues.

One friend of a friend of Cameron's, himself an experienced environmental campaigner, said: "I was pretty sceptical, but it does seem that he gets how important climate change is."

His aides say that he is determined to put in place policies that really will start reducing carbon emissions.

And yet environmental groups say they can be excused for being wary, because they have been down this route before with the Labour party, only to be, they say, hideously disappointed.

Deja vu?

One of Labour's 1997 manifesto commitments was to lead the fight against climate change.

Now, Labour is having to admit that the government is highly unlikely to meet its own targets, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020.

Even ministers admit that the recent Climate Change Review was an embarrassment.

There has been nothing dramatic in it to make a difference to greenhouse gas emissions that are currently on their way up, not down.

Indeed, some activists have wryly pointed out that the only target the government is meeting at the moment, as far as climate change is concerned, is the number of senior political figures telling us all how serious it all is.

But will David Cameron be any better?

Jury out

Well, it seems that as far as environmental campaigners are concerned, the jury is sympathetic - but still out.

He has agreed to a year on year reduction in carbon emissions - and shared a platform with Friends of the Earth to support this.

He has signed up to an independent Carbon Audit to report on how effectively the government is getting on with the job, but he hasn't said how big that annual reduction will be.

He has pleased WWF immensely.

In his leader's speech to conference, he said Conservative MEPs would be supporting environmental measures during the passage of a set of European chemical laws, known by the acronym REACH.

They say they've been waiting years for the Tories to come on board.

More work needed

But green groups say there are still an awful lot of blanks to fill in.

Nothing so far, for example, on what the Conservatives would do about transport and in particular gas-guzzling aviation, one of the fastest growing areas of transport.

Those who have contributed to the quality of life policy group - chaired by John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith - say they've been surprised at the lack of clarity and urgency involved in the process.

They wonder how issues like nuclear power will be resolved with other policy groups that are likely to have very different views.

The group is due to report in about six month's time - and with the Liberal Democrats already trying to reclaim the green centre ground, some activists wonder whether that's going to be soon enough.


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