Chris Huhne has called for Britain to lead the world in cutting carbon emissions, setting himself on a collision course with George Osborne, the Chancellor. But if UN climate summit fails, it will be embarrassing for Mr Huhne.
The Lib Dem minister, who is responsible for climate change, will arrive at UN talks in Durban, South Africa, today to lead the charge for an international deal to stop global temperatures rising above 3.6F (2C).
This means halving emissions in Britain over the next 15 years and spending £2.9 billion of taxpayers’ money helping other countries to also reduce carbon and adapt to climate change.
The EU is already committed to cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, but Mr Huhne wants to increase the target cut to 30 per cent even though many countries are uncomfortable with the impact on industry. Mr Huhne’s intervention comes after Mr Osborne, the Tory Chancellor, insisted Britain would not cut emissions faster than the rest of Europe.
Mr Osborne is also blamed for reducing green subsidies for solar panels, prompting anger across the emerging renewables industry, and giving tax breaks to energy-intensive industries.
The changing Tory policy on green issues, following David Cameron’s promises of the “greenest Government ever” and his introduction of the slogan “vote blue, go green”, has prompted anger in the environmental movement
An alliance of wildlife groups and activists, led by the RSPB, said the Government was showing “stunning disregard” for the value of the natural environment and expressed incredulity at the policies outlined in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement. A second letter signed by green activists including Tony Juniper, Jonathon Porritt and Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, warned that Mr Osborne’s statement had set the coalition “on a path to become the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born”.
Speaking on the Politics Show on BBC Two, Mr Huhne, said Britain would lead the world in calling for tougher carbon emissions.
He said: “I think that there is a potential big step forward here, which is that we can get the world committed to coming up with a global overarching treaty by 2015, so that we’re all at least heading in the same direction with a clear road map, so that we get global emissions down by 2020.
“That’s what the science is telling us is essential and we can do that in Durban.” Negotiations in Durban have currently stalled over the refusal of the largest emitters, the US and China, to pledge to cut emissions.
India, an emerging country, does not want to sign up to the same emissions cuts as richer nations.
To try to propel a commitment, Mr Huhne will launch a report from the Met Office on the impacts of climate change on more than 20 countries if nothing is done to reduce global emissions.
In Britain, rising temperatures are expected to cause more droughts, floods, and heatwaves in forthcoming decades.
The report came as two papers in nature journals warned that carbon emissions are higher than they have ever been.
If the talks fail, it will be embarrassing for Mr Huhne, who has led the way on Britain’s efforts as part of the European Union to get a climate deal by 2015 at the latest.