Blair hails ‘green UK’ but rejects heavy taxes

Tony Blair has praised Britain’s role as a global leader on climate change, but insisted he would not penalise people driving cars or taking cheap flights in a bid to save the planet.

The prime minister said the UK had “done better than most countries” in cutting carbon emissions, noting that it was on course to double its targets under the Kyoto protocol where most signatory countries would not even meet them.

He admitted “we haven’t done well enough”, acknowledging that when airline emissions are included, Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions have gone up since 1990, but stressed the government was making a difference in the fight against global warming.

This included working with Europe to expand the emissions trading scheme (ETS) to include the aviation industry, and with the US to secure an international agreement on cutting carbon emissions to replace Kyoto from 2012.

However, in a move likely to anger environmentalists, Mr Blair repeated his belief that any changes to cut carbon emissions at home must be “practical” and balance the rights of individuals to drive their cars or go on foreign holidays.

“Having gone through the fuel protests myself, it was a reminder to me of the fact that however radical your proposals are, they’ve also got to be sensible,” he told senior MPs on the House of Commons liaison committee this morning.

Gordon Brown’s recent decision to double air passenger duty (APD) was hailed as a move towards greater green taxation but has also been criticised as a stealth tax that is too small to really change people’s behaviour by stopping them flying.

Today Mr Blair said the move “was a step” towards changing behaviour but insisted: “I personally think that it is just not serious or practical to say to people don’t travel by air.”

He added: “If you did you would simply get a backlash, often from some of the lower income families for whom cheap air travel has been a great bonus.”

However, Mr Blair stressed the government was taking action to reduce Britain’s effect on global warming, arguing that the climate change bill would be the “most valuable thing that’s been brought forward from the government on green issues”.

Although it has been criticised by opposition parties and environmental campaigners for not including annual emission targets, the prime minister said the legislation would set out “a more rigorous attempt to reduce CO2 emissions in the time to come”.

On the international stage, he praised Britain’s role in the creation of the ETS and said his government’s much-maligned relationship with the US administration was responsible for a change in the American view towards climate change.

“I think there is a changing mood in America which is very positive and that’s why I think it’s possible that we will get agreement at least on the principles that will govern a [post-Kyoto] framework after 2012,” he said.