A six-million-ton question mark was placed over Britain's climate change strategy yesterday with the release of figures showing that UK greenhouse gas emissions, which the Government has pledged to cut radically, are actually soaring. Emissions of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, from power stations, motor vehicles and homes, amounted to 560.6 million tonnes last year, 6.4 million tons higher than the 2005 figure. The increase of 1.15 per cent means that Britain's emissions are now at the highest level since Labour came to power a decade ago, nearly 3 per cent above 1997.
The disclosure, which seems to be a stark illustration that Britain's climate strategy is not working, despite all the pronouncements of Tony Blair and his ministers, was greeted with concern in Whitehall and with anger and scorn by environmentalists and opposition politicians. They said the Government was clearly not on course to meet its targets of cutting CO2 by 30 per cent by 2020 and 60 per cent by the middle of the century. (It has already admitted it will not meet its long-standing target of a 20 per cent cut by 2010.)
It is especially embarrassing for the Government as only a fortnight ago it launched with much fanfare its Climate Change Bill, proposing to make future targets to cut emissions legally binding and thus - in theory - unmissable.
British official rhetoric about action on global warming has hit new heights in the past six months, with the Treasury-sponsored Stern Review on the economics of climate change, and the publication of the latest report from UN scientists saying that climate change is now an "unequivocal" fact. Yet Britain's own emissions, as yesterday's figures show, are moving in the opposite direction.
"2006 was the year of government green spin, but the numbers don't lie," said Charlie Kronick, Greenpeace climate campaigner. "For all the announcements and reports only one thing really matters, is New Labour reducing Britain's carbon footprint? And the answer is no."
The Environment Secretary, David Miliband, acknowledged the concern. "While these figures are provisional, they underline why concerted effort to tackle climate change, both from Government and wider society, is absolutely critical," he said.
Mr Miliband's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the rise in emissions last year was "primarily as a result of fuel switching from natural gas to coal for electricity generation". High international gas prices have recently led big power stations to move from gas to cheaper coal, which is much more carbon-intensive.
Environmentalists counterclaimed that the rise in emissions was the result of inadequate government measures.
"Ministers get frustrated with us when we give critical reactions to their policies," said Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth (FoE). "But more than any complex piece of analysis, these figures show that we are right - they're not doing enough."
Mr Juniper repeated FoE's demand that the Climate Change Bill should include annual targets for cutting CO2 emissions by at least 3 per cent each year (which has been rejected in favor of five-year targets.)
"This would force successive governments to put climate change at the core of all their policies and ensure that the UK moves towards a low-carbon economy," he said. "Most of the solutions to climate change already exist. It is the political will that's lacking."
The Green party MEP Caroline Lucas commented: "It isn't setting the right targets alone that matters, it is also enacting the policies to meet them - and the Government has so consistently failed on this front that it gets harder with each passing day to believe a word it utters on the subject."
UK transport emissions were the other sector which showed a large rise last year. But the figures show that Britain is still on course to meet its obligations under the Kyoto protocol, the international climate treaty, to reduce emissions of a "basket" of six greenhouse gases by 12 per cent by 2010.
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited