British Minister Opens International Conference on Climate Change
LONDON The British government opened a three-day international conference on climate change Tuesday, insisting that countries can cut carbon emissions without affecting economic growth.
Britain has made tackling global warming a priority for its chairmanship of the G-8 this year, and hopes the gathering of scientists from Europe, Asia, Africa and America will lead to a new international consensus on the threat posed by rising temperatures.
"We hope it will provide new information on the risks of climate change and provide a firmer basis for discussing long-term stabilization action," said Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett. "We also look to the conference to review practical ways of achieving emission reduction required to meet different stabilization goals."
Environmental group Friends of the Earth on Tuesday said Prime Minister Tony Blair's government must do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protested outside the conference in Exeter, southwest England.
It said unless the U.K. made sustained and significant cuts in its own emissions, the prime minister's credibility on the issue would be undermined.
"If we do not take action soon the impact on humans and wildlife will be immense," said spokesman Mike Childs. "The world's scientists have come together to give a clear warning that climate change is happening. We are saying to Tony Blair we are backing you on the world stage on climate change, but you must take more action at home."
Beckett acknowledged that Britain was unlikely to meet its target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2010. The government says that on current forecasts, Britain would only achieve a 14 percent drop.
However, Beckett said Britain was on track to go significantly beyond its commitment under the internationally agreed Kyoto Protocol. The 1997 accord, which was rejected by the United States, requires countries to reduce emissions of the six greenhouse gases by 12.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The government said they had already fallen in Britain by 14 percent and were projected to be 21 percent below that level by 2010.
U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has rejected the Kyoto accord, saying it would damage the U.S. economy. But Beckett insisted Britain had shown that carbon cuts and growth were not incompatible.
"One of the most important lessons Britain can spread to the rest of the world, and one of the reasons why we do bang the drum about this, is because we have been able to show that we can cut our emissions of greenhouse gases substantially and yet grow our economy," she said.
Blair believes it would be futile to try to overcome hostility in the Bush administration and Congress to the Kyoto accord. He wants to look beyond Kyoto's goals and encourage countries to boost research into green technology, that would allow economies to prosper without damaging the environment.
During the conference, scientists will present papers on a range of issues, including melting Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, rising sea levels, the role of tropical forests and problems caused by rapid climate change.
Source: Associated Press