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Are we on the brink of a green revolution? One as world changing as the Industrial Revolution, or the invention of the microprocessor? According to Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, we had better be.

In yesterday's speech about climate change, Brown took on the question of how we should tackle climate change with a surprisingly robust tone. But although much of his speech was welcomed by environmentalists, he is not without his critics.

Speaking at a conference hosted by wildlife charity WWF, he announced that he supported plans to banish the plastic bag from Britain's shores. He announced that he wanted to meet with key industry players to discuss how to phase out use of the oil-hungry, unrecyclable bags as part of a wide-ranging speech on all issues green.

Britain has committed to EU targets of 20 per cent from renewables by 2020, but Brown said our carbon reduction targets could mean that figure would have to rise as high as 40 per cent in the same period.

These announcements are particularly surprising since recent leaks from Whitehall have revealed civil servants plotting to find ways to wriggle out of existing renewables targets. They also come hot on the heels of news that the government's key "green" agency, the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs is facing massive budget cuts.

Environmentalists said the figures proposed by the prime minister were unlikely to be reachable without substantial investment in renewables. Critics also noted that the government is going to miss its interim target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. Environment minister Hillary Benn confirmed this, saying the reduction would be in the region of 16 per cent.

It is not clear how much renewable power Brown hopes to reach with the aid of nuclear power stations, but he noted that plans would include new wind farms, and investment in tidal and wave power as well.

Brown continued in his green vein, announcing an independent climate committee to consider whether Britain should also raise its carbon reduction targets beyond those outlined in the new Climate Change Bill.

This piece of legislation obliges us, as a nation, by 2050 to reduce our carbon footprint to just 40 per cent of what it was back in 1990. Now Brown says he wants to consult on whether that should be more like 20 per cent, so developing nations could continue to grow their economies before worrying about going green.

"Developed countries may have to reduce their emissions by up to 80 per cent. We will put this evidence to the committee on climate change and ask it to advise us... whether our own domestic target should be tightened up to 80 per cent," he told delegates.

Hitting the targets will require a revolution, he said, but sounded optimistic notes about this, too. Cars will become cleaner thanks to new technology, he said. And Britain will press the EU to tighten up on efficiency regulations for cars sold in that region. Plans are already afoot to introduce legislation to limit emissions for 130g/km by 2012, but Brown pledged to lobby for an upper limit of 100g/km by 2020. ®

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