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Blair's answer to climate change: the internet

Or time for a carbon regime change?

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Tony Blair has responded to his government's failure to hit its CO2 emissions target by calling for “a technological revolution comparable to the internet”. He promised to push for a new global consensus on climate change to replace the mostly impotent Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto is set to run until 2012.

The government yesterday published its climate change school report, conceding it is unlikely to hit a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2010. Instead, a cut of 15 to 18 per cent is achievable under the current carbon regime.

Either figure is more ambitious than the 12.5 per cent the UK is obliged to eliminate under Kyoto. Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told the BBC: "We are putting forward fresh proposals and I think people will find that these are quite tough proposals, and there is more to come later in the year."

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth described Labour's climate change review as “totally inadequate”, accusing minsters of lacking the political will to tackle the issue. They say CO2 emissions have risen by three per cent since the 1997 elections.

There have been rumours of cabinet bickering over future targets. Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said: “The ship is heading for the rocks, but rather than changing direction, Captain Blair has simply reduced speed while his crew continues to squabble.”

David Cameron's nascent touchy-feely Conservative Party view the environment as a potential vote winner. Trying to catch the hot potato, shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth said: “The government's efforts to tackle climate change remain piecemeal, timid and half-hearted.” The Tories called for the introduction of enforceable and independently-audited annual reductions goals.

Blair's comments sought to bat away criticism of the report during a marathon tour of Australasia.

For some UK scientists the PM's summons for scientific advancements to avert the crisis will sound rather hollow. Representatives of government scientist's union Prospect yesterday lobbied Parliament to fight planned cuts at key labs which monitor markers of climate change.

One union man described recent Labour rhetoric on science investment as “bullshit”. Labour backbencher and former academic Ian Gibson said ministers' science strategy was “wimpish”

Blair's Auckland, New Zealand, speech was also a signal from the PM that he has given up hope of gas-guzzling America, or energy-hungry developing giants China and India ever signing up to Kyoto. He said any new agreement would have to include those countries.

One of Bush's first acts after coming to power was to pull out of Kyoto.

A new climate change consensus may have a better chance of getting America on board. The President seems to have gradually begun to accept the reality of changing global climate. In his 2006 State of the Union Address Bush called for an reduction in US reliance on oil. He said: “To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.”

The emphasis was on a break from Middle Eastern oil however. Reports from across the pond that the administration has been taking advice from bestselling author Michael Crichton, whose climate change-denial polemic State of Fear is said to be a Whitehouse favourite, do not bode well.

Some Senators continue to disregard the groaning weight of evidence from labs the world over, apparently suspecting some form of liberal conspiracy.

Congress has been caught up lately with just one strand of evidence – the 'hockey stick' graph of global temperature change. Texas Republican Joe Barton has been accused of intimidation by fellow Republican Sherwood Boehlert after the launched investigations into the work of scientists who contributed.

Despite the nay-sayers, climate scientists continue to toil to understand what is happening to weather patterns. The latest issue of the journal Science was a special on a trio of new data which together painted a pretty grim picture:

  • Glacial earthquakes in Greenland increasing in frequency - an indication of faster melting.
  • Calculations showing the Antarctic ice sheet may collapse by 2100, raising sea level by several metres.
  • Increased discharge of cold glacial meltwaters at both poles, threatening ocean currents.

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