Doubts about the pledge have increased in the last few months after finance minister Gordon Brown mentioned only the EU's target to cut emissions of six greenhouse gases by 8% by 2008-2012 in a budget speech in March. In addition, the UK has refused to make the 20% cut part of its legally binding contribution to the EU target.
Mr Meacher attempted to explain the government's position at a meeting in London today. He said: "If we put our 20% into the [EU] bubble there would be less pressure on others to make reductions - particularly those who have been allowed significant increases under the March 1997 agreement."
He insisted: "The fact that we do not have a legally-binding 20% reduction target does not mean that 20% is no longer our aim. It is, and we regard it as politically binding."
In addition, Mr Meacher confirmed that the UK is prepared to increase its contribution to the EU target from the 10% provisionally agreed last year to 12% now (ENDS Daily 5 June). As acting EU president, the UK is anxious to set an example to other countries which it hopes will also make legally binding commitments on climate change at a meeting of environment ministers next week.
The government is due to publish a consultation paper on its climate change policy shortly. On Monday, Mr Meacher issued a challenge to all major business sectors in the UK to come forward with proposals for voluntary agreements to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Only the chemical industry has so far done so (ENDS Daily 19 November).
The government is also consulting on the feasibility of industrial energy taxes. A task force set up to look at the issue is due to report this autumn. Mr Meacher said today that he thought taxes would be necessary alongside voluntary agreements and mechanisms such as emissions trading to enable the UK to meet its targets.
Meanwhile, environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) said today that the UK could meet its 20% target in a cost-effective way, creating around 235,000 jobs. FoE's proposals include a carbon/nuclear tax raising up to UK£6bn (Ecu8.9bn) per year by 2010. They do not include an expansion in nuclear power capacity.
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