UK challenged on climate change targets

UK government is facing two tough new climate change targets. The European Commission challenged the UK to increase its use of renewable energy more than sevenfold to 15 per cent of all energy consumption by 2020 and to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 16 per cent by the same deadline.

The figures were published as the nation's contribution to meeting an EU-wide target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, and boosting the use of biofuels to 20 per cent.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the Commission's proposals sent a clear signal to the world that Europe was taking decisive action to fight climate change: "This plan shows exactly what we are aiming for globally - a comprehensive and effective agreement to tackle climate change, with the carbon market at its heart."

And he backed the Commission's pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 if the international community does the same. Benn said the decision to set clear long-term goals for tackling climate change gave businesses and financial markets the certainty they needed.

Business Secretary John Hutton said the UK government was already engaged in a major review of domestic climate change strategy and was committed to meeting its share of the EU's target for boosting energy from renewable sources.

But he made clear the final figure which will commit Britain will be determined in forthcoming negotiations between ministers on today's commission proposals. "Whatever the final outcome, the UK is already exploring a vast expansion of wind energy offshore, and tidal power on the Severn, and we are already thoroughly reviewing our strategy to drive progress further," he said.

He added that the climate change package - described by Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso as the most comprehensive plan in the world for tackling pollution - showed the EU was a global leader on the issue: "I want to see it agreed as soon as possible to give business the certainty it needs to plan low-carbon investments with confidence."

Benn emphasised that the UK was determined to play its part in full, but added: "We should ensure that there is collective effort from all member states to play their part in meeting the EU target."

Environmental groups said today's 20 per cent target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions was a good start, but fell far short of an international climate change agreement last month which acknowledged scientific advice that a cut of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent was the minimum needed to contain the problem of global warming.

And Euro MPs warned Barroso that today's proposals were a minimum which must be achieved if the EU's claim to be leading the field on climate change is to be upheld.

The European Parliament is key because it shares power of final approval over today's brands with EU governments.

Image: Environment Secretary Hilary Benn backs the Commission's pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions

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