When Tony Blair swept to power in 1997, he promised his would be “the first truly green Government ever”.
The early signs were extremely encouraging. Road plans were scrapped, the departments of transport and environment were merged and legal protection for Britain’s top wildlife sites was strengthened.
But it was on climate change that Tony Blair focused his environmental attention. Describing it as “the world’s greatest environmental challenge”, he promised in three successive election manifestos to cut UK carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2010.
Unfortunately domestic policies, such as transport, fell woefully short of what was required. Road traffic has risen by more than eleven per cent under Labour, and aviation emissions are growing so fast that a Committee of MPs warned that Government climate targets could be rendered “meaningless and unachievable”. UK carbon dioxide emissions are now higher than they were when Mr Blair took office.
However, Tony Blair’s contribution on the international stage has been far more successful. His Government played a significant part in securing the Kyoto climate treaty, and he made global warming a key issue during the UK’s Presidency EU and its chairing of the G8, thus ensuring that it was high on the international political agenda, where it has remained ever since.
And a few months ago the Government announced that it would introduce a new law to cut UK carbon dioxide emissions, something Friends of the Earth has been calling for through The Big Ask climate campaign. When passed, this will be the first piece of national legislation in the world that will require emissions cuts.
Tony Blair has made a significant contribution to the debate on climate change, but it has been undermined by his failure to cut emissions at home.
His successor must build on this by taking urgent steps to make Britain a world leader in developing a low carbon economy. And the best way to do this is to introduce a strong climate change law requiring annual cuts in UK emissions of at least three per cent every year.