In a very roundabout British way, of course
Britain is to open the door for other nations to abandon setting compulsory targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions: the principle at the heart of the Kyoto agreement to tackle climate change. Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has told The Observer she is prepared to accept voluntary targets - a move hinted at this autumn by Tony Blair.
The news caused consternation among green campaigners last night. 'Voluntary targets are not worth the paper they are written on,' said Stephen Tindale, head of Greenpeace UK. 'Without mandatory targets [the Kyoto Protocol] is effectively dead.'
Beckett was speaking ahead of next week's climate change summit in Montreal where she will act as the UK and European Union negotiator in discussions on what is to follow the Kyoto agreement when it runs out in 2012. She said it would be impossible to achieve consensus on compulsory targets. She likened developed countries which insist that such targets be agreed by poorer developing nations to new imperialists. 'Such an approach would be utterly destructive to any kind of agreement,' she said. 'People would never engage in dialogue if they thought the outcome was preconceived and ... could hamper their development.'
Instead of compulsory national targets, future agreements could set targets for 'sectors' - potentially transport, domestic energy use or industry, or even individual commercial sectors. Another idea is voluntary targets. Beckett said: 'Targets will always have a very important role to play and will be part of a framework, but not everybody has to be in exactly the same position.' Pressed to explain, she added: 'I'm reluctant to go any further into it. There are people who might be outraged that anybody would consider a voluntary approach.'
But the Environment Secretary also dismissed the argument of the Prime Minister and the US that countries would not reduce emissions because this would damage economic growth. 'Actually, there's quite a lot of evidence to suggest you can do things to tackle climate change without damaging your economy,' she said. 'If you look at some major global companies that have started to take steps to tackle their own emissions, far from being economically damaging it's actually economically beneficial.'
Some commentators suggested yesterday that Beckett, who is admired for her firm stand on green issues, was raising the prospect of voluntary targets as a negotiating ploy to win support from the US and other countries reluctant to agree tough emissions reductions.
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