Blair Urges 60 Percent Global Greenhouse Gas Cuts

LONDON, UK, February 24, 2003 (ENS) - To stop further damage to the global climate a 60 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 is required, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said today in a major speech on sustainable development in which he committed Britain to the 60 percent cut. Speaking at an event organized by the United Nations Sustainable Development Commission, he set out the case for a new international consensus to tackle key issues of sustainable development like climate change.

Today, Blair and Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson wrote a joint letter to the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, in his capacity as President of the European Council. In it the two nations confirm their ambition to reduce emissions across the European Union by 60 percent by 2050, and their commitment to policies that will demonstrate how it can be achieved.

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UK Prime Minister Tony Blair greets Greek President Costas Simitis at Number 10 Downing St. when he assumed the position of EU President which he will hold until June 30. (Photo by Terry O'Neill courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
Climate change is a crucial long term global security issue comparable to the immediate security threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, Blair said.

"The world is in danger of polarizing around two different agendas," warned Blair. "On the one hand there are the very clear and dangerous threats of unstable states developing or proliferating weapons of mass destruction and the evil of terrorism exemplified by September 11th. These are the issues, if you like, of immediate security. They are a threat we can see confronting us directly and now."

"On the other hand, there are the issues that affect us over time. They are just as devastating in their potential impact, some more so, but they require reflection and strategy geared to the long term, often straddling many years and many governments," said the British Prime Minister, now in his second term.

Within the long term category, said Blair, are "issues of global poverty, relations between the Moslem world and the West, environmental degradation, most particularly climate change."

Calling climate change "unquestionably the most urgent environmental challenge," Blair said the only answer is to construct "a common agenda that recognizes both sets of issues have to be confronted for the world's security and prosperity to be guaranteed." He said his government will continue to make the case, "to the U.S. and to others, that climate change is a serious threat that we must address together as an international community."

Blair stressed the potential of technological development to achieving transition to "a truly low-carbon economy" without causing the sort of economic damage feared by countries like the United States.

Blair said Britain is "well on the way" to meeting its greenhouse gas reduction target of 12.5 percent under the United Nations Kyoto climate protocol, which U.S. President George W. Bush rejected.

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Allies UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) and U.S. President George W. Bush share a laugh at a NATO meeting in May 2002. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy The White House)
"But while the Kyoto Protocol was "an enormous achievement," Blair warned, "it is clear Kyoto is not radical enough." He acknowledged that it represents the most that is "politically achievable" at this time.

Global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen 10 percent since 1990, with a 35 percent increase in developing countries, and Blair said even the Kyoto Protocol limits and deadlines will not be enough to avert global warming.

"At best Kyoto will mean a reduction of two percent in emissions. That is better than emissions just continuing to rise and rise. But we know now, from further research and evidence, that to stop further damage to the climate we need a reduction in 60 percent reduction worldwide," the Prime Minister said, relying on the 2000 report of a Royal Commission on Environmental Protection.

Many, including the Bush administration, see the Kyoto Protocol as a threat to the pursuit of economic growth, but said Blair, "I believe this needn't be the case. If we harness new technology the evidence is mounting that we can achieve a target of 60 percent - and at reasonable cost."

The solutions to climate change, such as hydrogen fueled vehicles, are not expensive "against the scale of the problem," said Blair. It is "a myth" that reducing emissions makes us poorer, he said. "The UK's economy has grown by nearly 17 percent since 1997," when the Blair government took office, he said. "In that time, emissions have fallen by five percent."

There are "clear economic advantages" for Britain in taking the lead in combating climate change, Blair said. "We have enormous potential in this field - in our universities, our research institutes, our businesses."

"Today I am pleased to announce its first large portfolio of projects - including fuel cells, wave power, photovoltaics and CHP [cogenerated heat and power] - which together will amount to 70 million in combined public-private investment," Blair said.

Britain's commitment on cutting carbon dioxide emissions was included in a long anticipated energy white paper, which puts an end to months of speculation over national policy on renewable energies and nuclear power. A new ambition of a 20 percent share of electricity from renewables by 2020 is included.

The question of possible new nuclear power capacity is left open.

Ensuring security of energy supply drives the white paper. Britain is set to become a net importer of energy in 2010 for the first time in 30 years. Under a business as usual scenario by 2020 around 75 percent of primary energy supplies will be imported.

Better energy efficiency, establishment of the forthcoming EU carbon trading scheme and planning system changes to remove obstacles to new renewables infrastructure build are included.

While Blair's speech seemed to place Britain in the vanguard of the battle against global warming, government environment adviser Sir Jonathon Porritt has warned that the UK would fall `"well short'' of its goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2010 unless major policy changes are made, particularly on reducing car use.

Today Blair did not mention his government's previous commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent over 1990 levels by 2010.

Blair did stress that his government is acting to clean up the environment, "not just globally, but locally," in towns and cities, where "the environment is overwhelmingly an issue of concern for the poorest citizens in our communities."

"It is the poorest that live in the worst housing, and are the most affected by traffic pollution, live closest to landfill sites and have the worst graffiti and litter problems," the Prime Minister said.

Friends of the Earth UK Director Tony Juniper commented, "Tony Blair's speech today contained important passages about the relationship between poverty, social exclusion and environmental damage. The need for environmental justice has been the central theme of Friends of the Earth's campaigning for a number of years. Mr Blair's clear understanding of this crucial issue is very welcome."

But, said Juniper, many of the UK's environmental problems are getting worse, not better, under the Blair government. "Greenhouse gas emissions are not falling. Road traffic is rising. And so is the amount of household waste being sent to landfill."

Juniper called for "specific and radical targets and timetables," backed with sufficient funding. "Otherwise we may simply return in a year or two to hear the same pledges and depressing realities all over again."