Tony Blair: Climate Change Offers Commercial Chance

British PM says,"We will only succeed if we make tackling climate change a commercial opportunity."

Published: 06-Mar-2001

LONDON (Reuters) - Efforts to tackle global warming will founder unless big business is convinced of the commercial opportunities offered by renewable energy, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will say Tuesday.

Blair will make a keynote speech to a World Wildlife Fund for Nature conference in London and pledge to spend $150 million of government money on developing renewable energy sources -- wind, wave and solar power.

But stinging criticism of his environmental record from a cross-party group of British politicians will still be ringing in his ears.

"We will only succeed if we make tackling climate change a commercial opportunity," Blair will say, according to his official spokesman. "Countries that invest in these technologies now will reap a long-term commercial reward."

Parliament's cross-party Environmental Audit Committee said Blair routinely did too little, too late in the green arena.

Early in government, Blair pledged to make the environment a centerpiece of policy rather than an afterthought. "Our conclusion is that they have failed to do precisely that," committee chairman John Horam told reporters.

Blair's spokesman would not say how a commercial approach could drive attempts to tackle climate change when big companies were among the world's worst polluters.

Neither would Blair mention his government's decision to cut fuel duties this year, he said. Horam said that move made no environmental sense.

BUDGET PUSHED BACK

So important is the speech to Blair as he tries to burnish his green credentials that finance minister Gordon Brown's annual budget speech was pushed out of its traditional Tuesday slot and moved back a day.

In his budget, Brown will confirm a duty cut for ultra-low sulphur petrol and a temporary reduction for unleaded fuel, after fuel protesters last year blockaded refineries and almost brought the country to a halt.

For years previously, fuel taxes rose far faster than inflation.

The government has set a target that 10 percent of British energy would come from renewable sources by 2010. Horam said the current level was 0.25 percent.

"That is a huge task...and will need a very big change in policy," Horam said. "They always do too little too late. I am not optimistic."

Blair touched on global warming when he met U.S. President George Bush two weeks ago, an aide said, and came away with no impression that Bush was disinterested in the issue.

A weekend G8 environment meeting in Italy raised hopes that the U.S. administration would not turn its back on climate change and the key 1997 Kyoto accord to cut greenhouse gases.

Blair will reel off a raft of gloomy forecasts -- by 2025 almost two-thirds of a rapidly-growing global population will suffer from droughts or floods, by 2100 temperatures could be six percent higher than they were in 1990, and in Britain rainfall could increase by up to 20 percent over that period.

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