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Brown blushes over green cuts

Was that cut emissions, or cut the budget?

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Gordon Brown is preparing to give his first major speech on the action the government is taking to tackle climate change, but it will be against a background of massive cuts in the government agency charged with managing the environment, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

According to a Guardian report, Defra is facing £300m of cuts as it struggles to make its budget stretch around the agricultural crises of the summer, payments to the EU, and a resurgence of bird flu. The cuts are likely to hit those agencies dealing with recycling, energy saving, carbon emissions and nature protection, the newspaper says.

Defra's permanent secretary, Helen Ghosh, has put together a round of cuts totalling £270m, on top of savings already announced. The Guardian says it has seen a document detailing how the belt will be tightened in two phases - an immediate budget reduction of £130m, and the potential for another £140m of more "radical" savings.

Two agencies that seem likely to take heavy hits are the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and Nature England.

WRAP was set up to help promote recycling and educate people about the need to divert waste from the landfill sites that will soon cost the government huge amounts of cash in EU fines. It will receive no new funding from Whitehall. Meanwhile, Nature England is being forced to repay its set up costs of £12m, drop 30 per cent of its budget for new conservation work, and meet annual cuts of two per cent across the board.

All this precedes the prime minister's speech today, in which he is expected to echo recent UN statements that climate change is a real problem that must be tackled with urgency. He is set to reiterate Britain's commitment to European targets on renewable energy, possibly even raising the targets, and argue that dealing with climate change will create new jobs.

In a statement on Sunday, Brown said: "Developed countries have historic responsibility for causing climate change, and have the greatest capacity for reducing emissions. So we must show leadership and take the first and largest responsibility." ®

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