Tony Blair today wades into the growing controversy over how individuals can help to tackle global warming by declaring that he has no intention of abandoning long-haul holiday flights to reduce his carbon footprint.
Days after his environment minister branded Ryanair the "irresponsible face of capitalism" for opposing an EU carbon emissions scheme, the prime minister says it is impractical to expect people to make personal sacrifices by taking holidays closer to home.
Prime Minister Tony Blair runs up the stairs to a plane as he leaves Tel Aviv airport. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
"I personally think these things are a bit impractical actually to expect people to do that," Mr Blair says in an interview.
The prime minister, who recently had a family holiday in Miami, adds that it would be wrong to impose "unrealistic targets" on travellers. "You know, I'm still waiting for the first politician who's actually running for office who's going to come out and say it - and they're not," Mr Blair says. "It's like telling people you shouldn't drive anywhere."
His remarks contrast with the tone set by Ian Pearson, the environment minister, who last week used strong language to criticise Ryanair for opposing the European commission's plan to include all flights within Europe in the EU carbon trading scheme from 2011.
Mr Blair's remarks are also at odds with the declaration last month by the Prince of Wales that he would cut back on domestic and international flights.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, believes he has stolen a march on the government by emphasising green issues and his own credentials - installing a wind turbine on his new house.
The prime minister says: "I think that what we need to do is to look at how you make air travel more energy efficient, how you develop the new fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less. How - for example - in the new frames for the aircraft, they are far more energy efficient."
Downing Street was irritated last night that the interview, with Sky News, was quickly interpreted as a snub to attempts to reduce people's carbon footprints. "This is not about the prime minister's travel," a source said.
The prime minister's spokesman said that Mr Blair offset all his official travel, though No 10 refused to say whether he did this on personal flights. He added: "All government activity will be carbon neutral by 2015 and the prime minister has taken the lead in this."
Mr Blair says in his interview that he is taking a difficult decision on whether to replace Britain's nuclear energy capacity. In his Labour conference speech last year the prime minister mocked Mr Cameron for adopting a "multiple choice" approach by saying he would only endorse nuclear power as a last resort.
Mr Blair's message in the interview is that everyone needs to work together, but imposing strict rules would only backfire."Britain is 2% of the world's emissions. We shut down all of Britain's emissions tomorrow - the growth in China will make up the difference within two years.
"So we've got to be realistic about how much obligation we've got to put on ourselves. The danger, for example, if you say to people 'Right, in Britain ... you're not going to have any more cheap air travel,' everybody else is going to be having it. So you've got to do this together in a way that doesn't end up actually putting people off the green agenda by saying you must not have a good time any more and can't consume. All the evidence is that if you use the science and technology constructively, your economy can grow, people can have a good time, but do so more responsibly."
Emily Armistead, of Greenpeace, said: "Tony Blair is crossing his fingers and hoping someone will invent aeroplanes that don't cause climate change. But that's like holding out for cigarettes that don't cause cancer. Hoping for the best isn't a policy, it's a delusion."
Mike Childs, of Friends of the Earth, said: "It's disappointing that Tony Blair is refusing to set an example on tackling climate change, but it is even more disappointing that his government is failing to take decisive action to cut UK emissions."
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