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A WWF conference in London on 6 March was the setting for Tony Blair’s second major speech on the environment, in which an extra £100 million in government money was pledged to renewables to assist the sector in meeting its target of generating 10% of UK energy by 2010. And we have set a target of at least doubling combined heat and power, also by 2010. (see related story). The money comes on top of the £50 million announced last October in his first major environmental speech (see related story).

“Last year I asked the Performance and Innovation Unit to undertake a major study into the future of UK renewable energy,” Blair said. “Today I can announce a further £100 million to support those technologies identified by the report. I know that a number of green groups have been campaigning for a target of 100,000 solar PV installations. This new money will help us to promote solar PV, give a boost to offshore wind, kick start energy crops, and bring on stream other new generation technologies. This investment in renewable technology is a major down-payment in our future, and will help open up huge commercial opportunities for Britain.”

Blair justified his commitment to renewable sources by drawing heavily on the most recent predictions on climate change, such as the United Nations increasing its prediction for the global average surface temperature rise between 1990 and 2100 to 5.8°C (see related story). “We would be irresponsible to treat these predictions as scare-mongering. They represent the considered opinions of some of the world’s best scientists”, he said, adding that implementation of the Kyoto Protocol “represents the first real step down the road of collective action to meet our collective responsibility,” but which is “only a start”. The Prime Minister also said he was pleased that the G8 Environment Ministers committed to reaching agreement at the resumed negotiations in Bonn in July (see story in this weeks ‘World’ section).

Blair announced that the government had now put in place a programme that they believe will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 23% over 1990 levels by 2010, an increase of 3% from a pledge made last year (see related story), although he recognised that CO2 cuts of 60% or more “may still not be enough” (see related story). The Climate Change Levy (see related story), the new Carbon Trust, which will help recycle over £100 million of Climate Change Levy receipts to accelerate the take up of cost effective, low carbon technologies, and the domestic emissions trading scheme (see related story), are other keys to cutting emissions, Blair said. He cited the government’s 10-year £180 billion transport plan (see related story) and doubling expenditure on home energy efficiency as other contributors.

On sustainability, Blair said that he recognised that the Common Agricultural Policy “promotes forms of agricultural production that damage the environment”, and is in urgent need of reform and pledged renewed commitment, if not actions, towards more sustainable farming methods. The Prime Minister also announced that the government would be launching measures to improve marine conservation in the UK and abroad, including a series of marine stewardship reports, as well as tough action on forests. Restating that the Government would “only purchase timber only from legal and sustainable sources”, Blair said he would advocate further measures in the G8 against illegal logging, discuss the issue with President Cardoso of Brazil on his imminent visit and press for greater forest law enforcement in East Asia (see related story).

Blair’s speech was universally hailed by environmentalists. “This is the first indication that the Prime Minister is genuinely and personally committed to the fight against climate change,” said Stephen Tindale, Greenpeace’s Policy Director. “The £100 million to support solar power, wave power and offshore wind is a breakthrough, no British Government has been prepared to invest in solar or wave until now. It’s now up to the other parties to follow his lead and outline their plans on climate. Calling for lower petrol prices and threatening to scrap the Climate Change Levy suggest that the Conservatives have forgotten everything they ever learnt about climate change.”

“This is the strongest environment speech Tony Blair has yet made,” commented Friends of the Earth (FoE) Executive Director Charles Secrett. “We welcome the Prime Minister’s strong words on climate change. And we hope his commitment to sustainable farming will lead to a clear Government policy statement on how that shift can be achieved over the next Parliament.” The group did criticise Blair’s reference to the transport plan, however, for not mentioning what proportion of funds had been ear-marked for new road schemes.

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