Britain opens way for new climate deal

Margaret Beckett woos other nations by suggesting voluntary targets for cutting emissions as part of bid for a post-Kyoto agreement

Britain is to open the door for other nations to abandon setting compulsory targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions: the principle at the heart of the Kyoto agreement to tackle climate change.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has told The Observer she is prepared to accept voluntary targets - a move hinted at this autumn by Tony Blair.

The news caused consternation among green campaigners last night. 'Voluntary targets are not worth the paper they are written on,' said Stephen Tindale, head of Greenpeace UK. 'Without mandatory targets [the Kyoto Protocol] is effectively dead.'

Beckett was speaking ahead of next week's climate change summit in Montreal where she will act as the UK and European Union negotiator in discussions on what is to follow the Kyoto agreement when it runs out in 2012.

She said it would be impossible to achieve consensus on compulsory targets. She likened developed countries which insist that such targets be agreed by poorer developing nations to new imperialists. 'Such an approach would be utterly destructive to any kind of agreement,' she said. 'People would never engage in dialogue if they thought the outcome was preconceived and ... could hamper their development.'

Instead of compulsory national targets, future agreements could set targets for 'sectors' - potentially transport, domestic energy use or industry, or even individual commercial sectors. Another idea is voluntary targets.

Beckett said: 'Targets will always have a very important role to play and will be part of a framework, but not everybody has to be in exactly the same position.' Pressed to explain, she added: 'I'm reluctant to go any further into it. There are people who might be outraged that anybody would consider a voluntary approach.'

But the Environment Secretary also dismissed the argument of the Prime Minister and the US that countries would not reduce emissions because this would damage economic growth.

'Actually, there's quite a lot of evidence to suggest you can do things to tackle climate change without damaging your economy,' she said. 'If you look at some major global companies that have started to take steps to tackle their own emissions, far from being economically damaging it's actually economically beneficial.'

Some commentators suggested yesterday that Beckett, who is admired for her firm stand on green issues, was raising the prospect of voluntary targets as a negotiating ploy to win support from the US and other countries reluctant to agree tough emissions reductions. The Confederation of British Industry said voluntary targets were 'worth looking at'.

However, others have pointed to remarks by Lord May, president of the Royal Society, who warned that Britain was in danger of losing its international authority on climate change. He criticised the move away from a target-based approach. 'The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that countries are not doing enough,' he said. 'What we need is courage from our political leaders, to take the actions necessary to reduce our emissions.'

Britain has two targets to tackle emissions compared to 1990. Under Kyoto it pledged to reduce a basket of greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent by 2012, and at the last three elections Labour pledged to cut carbon dioxide by 20 per cent by 2010.

Beckett said the UK was 'on track' to meet its Kyoto targets, 'probably to exceed them', but she admitted Britain faced a challenge to meet its carbon target.

Last year she said the country was on course to make 14 per cent, but Environment Department sources said the figure is now 'more towards 11 per cent'.

A review of the climate change programme is expected to propose policies to close the gap, but has been delayed until next year by disagreements. 'We're quite a way off at present and anxious to see what we can do to get back on track,' said Beckett.


Juliette Jowit, environment editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Britain threatens to cut Kopernikus programme funding for climate spy in space

Scientists voice deep concerns over likely cuts to the £128m promised to the Kopernikus programme

Alok Jha

25, Oct, 2008 @11:01 PM

Electric cars given official green light to boost climate change goals

Vehicles run on renewable energy will have a growing part in Britain's climate change battle

Alok Jha

21, Jun, 2008 @11:01 PM

US told to toe line on climate
Britain and Germany yesterday joined forces to warn President George Bush that talks on climate change must take place within a United Nations framework and not in an ad hoc process.

Nicholas Watt, Anushka Asthana and Dan McDougall

03, Jun, 2007 @1:29 AM

Blair raises hopes of global climate deal
Tony Blair yesterday held out hopes for a major breakthrough on a post-Kyoto climate-change accord as his crowning achievement after a decade as Prime Minister.

Ned Temko in Davos

28, Jan, 2007 @12:05 AM

Miliband calls for populist push in battle against climate change

Minister calls for Make Poverty History-style movement to push for breakthrough at Copenhagen summit

Gaby Hinsliff and John Vidal

25, Apr, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Coal at centre of fierce new climate battle

Conflicts over ideas and funding could hold back innovative technology to capture dangerous emissions

Robin McKie

15, Feb, 2009 @12:01 AM

UK is branded a 'climate criminal' over coal plans

Campaigners in 40 countries say UK's proposed new coal power plants will undercut emission deals

Juliette Jowit, environment editor

22, Feb, 2009 @12:01 AM

Britain's climate target 'impossible'

Efforts to keep world temperature rises under 2C will fail, says thinktank, even if UK sticks to policy on carbon emissions

Juliette Jowit, environment editor

07, Jun, 2008 @11:01 PM

Beckett warns of climate deal difficulties
The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, today warned that efforts to find a post-Kyoto climate change agreement will be 'difficult, fraught and protracted'.

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

05, Jun, 2007 @12:32 PM

Beckett rejects nuclear option
Building nuclear power stations would risk landing future generations with 'difficult' legacies, the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, warns today in a clear rebuff to the nuclear industry.

Gaby Hinsliff, chief political correspondent

19, Sep, 2004 @12:26 AM