Climate change plan fails to pass muster

With the UK poised to take over the presidency of the EU next year, Tony Blair is desperate to set an international example on, well, anything but Iraq. So what is the real message behind his call this week for the country to pull together and tackle climate change? While it is always welcome when a prime minister takes the environment seriously, his demand is very much of the "do as I say, not as I do" variety.

The government has already held up its hands on missing targets for greenhouse gas emissions. A closer look at chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-budget statement last week offers more disconcerting evidence.

With a general election due within six months, the chancellor effectively caved in to the motoring lobby by abandoning this year's planned rise in fuel duty. Bizarrely, he had the gall to depict this as some kind of environmental measure. Yet the statement spoke volumes for what it did not contain. Where were the tax breaks to penalise polluters and encourage fuel efficiency?

Launching a £20 million fund for energy efficiency technology is all very well, but is £20 million enough to tackle what Brown's boss sees as the world's greatest environmental challenge? True, the public can always do more when it comes to the environment. Society's obsession with materialism is a case in point.

Governments can encourage consumers and industry as much as they like, but this is little more than cheering from the sidelines unless it is backed up by tax incentives or penalties. Big issues such as climate change demand brave politics. Ironically, when an election comes around, we get anything but that.

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