November 14, 2005

Blair Under Sustained Attack Over Environment

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON -- Environmental activists accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday of failing to tackle global warming despite many pledges of tough action.

As Greenpeace dumped five tonnes of coal outside Blair's London residence in protest at what they said was his backsliding, the World Wide Fund for Nature accused him of saying one thing but doing the opposite on climate change.

"Blair has gone from being the great hope to being the great threat," Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart told Reuters by telephone from Downing Street. "His rowing back on Kyoto is deeply, deeply worrying."

WWF-UK said that far from leading by example on tackling what scientists have said is the biggest threat facing mankind with rising seas, storms and droughts, Blair's rhetoric had time and again proved hollow.

"The prime minister came into office with many opportunities to show environmental leadership, but despite all of his passionate speeches ... when the chips are down he has often jumped the wrong way," WWF-UK director Andrew Lee said.

The joint attack comes two weeks before a key meeting in Canada to try to map out a course of action after the first phase of the Kyoto climate change protocol ends in 2012.

It followed a warning last week by Lord May, president of the Royal Society, the British national science academy, that Britain was losing its moral authority on climate change because it was missing its goals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"It is difficult to criticize other countries, such as the United States, who will not meet their targets if we are unable to meet our commitments," he said.

Signatories to Kyoto which came into force in February after Russia ratified it have vowed to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by five percent below 1990 levels by 2010 -- although every country has its own specific target within that figure.

The United States, the world's biggest polluter, has refused to sign up on the grounds that the economic consequences of doing so would be catastrophic.

A report last week by a European think tank, the International Council for Capital Formation, said hitting the Kyoto targets could wipe out at least 200,000 jobs each in Italy, Germany and Britain and more than 600,000 in Spain.

Blair, who made global warming one of the key themes of Britain's year-long presidency of the Group of Eight rich nations in 2005, persuaded his fellow leaders at the July summit to agree some actions but with no targets and no timetables.

Britain has vowed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 by 2010, but environmentalists have said it is way off target to achieve that goal and noted that emissions had actually risen in recent years.

They also noted that recent comments by the British leader indicated that he was backing away from taking the Kyoto committments further.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister on Friday the Stop Climate Chaos coalition -- a new formation grouping NGOs and environmentalists -- urged him to stop backsliding.

"Tony Blair's recent remarks on climate change are giving Kyoto's opponents -- in particular President Bush -- the ammunition to kill off the protocol," director Ashok Sinha said.

"For a Prime Minister who has championed climate change throughout his EU and G8 presidency, Tony Blair is now in real danger of undermining the most important climate change agreement ever," he added.