UK Labour promises environmental leadership

Main opposition party says it will put environment high on international agenda

The UK Labour Party is promising to give a high priority to the European and international environmental agenda if it wins parliamentary elections this spring - as is widely expected.

At a press briefing in London this morning, Labour's "shadow" foreign minister Robin Cook said that environment would be "a strong theme" of a Labour government. I want to "seize the opportunity" of the UK's forthcoming presidency of the European Union "to give the environment a helpful shove" up the international agenda he said.

Flanked by Labour's prospective environment minister Michael Meacher, Mr Cook said that a new independent advisory committee will guide the party on key European and international environmental issues.

The Green Globe Task Force is intended to help Labour prepare for the UK's six-month term as EU president, starting in January 1988, and the "very substantial number" of conferences on the international agenda that Labour will participate in if it wins office.

Michael Meacher said that the group's priority would be to advise on climate change policy, including the European and international dimensions. Labour has already committed itself to reducing national carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010; a target that conforms closely with the Dutch presidency's proposals for the UK under its "burden-sharing" scheme (ENDS Daily 19 February).

But the party appears sceptical of the wider framework of burden sharing currently on the table. Robin Cook said that all EU members should be given "tough targets". He said that there is "no justification in any members being allowed to increase emissions", as the presidency is currently proposing for several Mediterranean countries.

Mr Meacher outlined a number of other international environmental issues on which the Green Globe Task Force will offer advice. It will suggest "whether there is a need for" an international forestry convention or an "appropriate alternative", he said. It will advise on appropriate policies on hormone-mimicking chemicals (endocrine disrupters). It will suggest whether there is a need for a global freshwater convention, and it will advise on trade and environment issues and on tourism.

The group will also guide Labour on biotechnology issues, including the currently hot political topic of EU imports of modified maize. Mr Meacher said this morning that the party will seek advice on "whether Labour's current policy in favour of separation and labelling [of engineered foods] is right", and whether the UK "should support Austria and other countries in contesting imports" (ENDS Daily 6 February).

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