UK opposition finally taking climate change seriously

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Liberal Democrat party published a groundbreaking blueprint for climate change reform yesterday, to the relief of environmentalists who finally see a mainstream political party giving green issues the attention they deserve.

Party Leader Sir Menzies Campbell explained that climate change needed to move up the political agenda, pointing to extreme weather in Australia, the New Orleans hurricane, and this summer’s floods in the UK. The document is a vision of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050, including the total replacement of petrol-powered cars by 2040 and an end to nuclear power stations.

Other details include Labour’s climate change levy on industry being replaced with a formal carbon tax; the EU’s “cap and trade” system of emissions trading made more ambitious by EU-wide agreement; and a campaign to push Europe towards collective taxation of aviation fuel, regardless of whether America and other countries comply.

The document goes significantly further than anything proposed by the Conservative leader, David Cameron, despite his self-professed green sympathies. If anything, the Lib Dem blueprint may be overambitious, leading to criticism that it is untenable and idealistic. It envisages international post-Kyoto agreements designed to prevent global temperatures from rising above the 2°celsius level which is thought to make alterations to the environment irreversible. Post-Kyoto target agreements are often hampered by debate about the role of developing countries in emissions, and the Lib Dems want tighter carbon emission targets for developed countries (calculated per capita) which would gradually be extended to developing states in a multi-stage approach. Green technologies would be given to poor and industrialising nations to assist them in reducing emissions.

Sir Menzies attacked the Prime Minister for his repeated anti-green policies, and proposed a “tax pollution not people” approach: cutting income tax, and reverse the decline in green taxation – which has dropped to Thatcherite levels under Labour, Sir Menzies said.

The Party Leader stated that “This time it’s different”: “Climate change is a global problem that requires an international solution. Under our proposals the UK would set the green standard for others to reach.”

Hopefully such a bold statement of action on climate change from a major political party will raise the bar for all parties to start taking green issues seriously as parties compete for votes ahead of the general election expected in 2009.

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