Environment News Service (ENS)

Blair Wins With Reduced Majority, Climate Change Marginalized


Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

LONDON, UK, May 6, 2005 (ENS) - Today is British Prime Minister Tony Blair's birthday, and the electorate Thursday handed him the gift of a victory at the polls, although with a greatly reduced majority. Acknowledging that his Labour Party's result was damaged by the public's negative reaction to British involvement in the Iraq War, Blair promised to pay attention to things that are important to the voters.

I will 'focus on the things that matter' said Blair, promising to work towards job creation, lowering the crime rate, and improving health care.

The Labour Party's democratic socialist majority will be cut from 167 in 2001 to 66, when all the votes are counted, the BBC predicts. Under leader Michael Howard, the rival Conservatives gained seats in Parliament at Labour's expense, as did the Liberal Democrats.

Friends of the Earth says the most important issue facing the country - climate change - was practically ignored during the election campaign, except for the Liberal Democrats who 'put the environment at the heart of its manifesto,' the group said.

Friends of the Earth's director, Tony Juniper said, 'Labour and the Conservatives agree that climate change is one of the biggest threats we face and have promised leadership on the issue. Global warming will be at the top of the agenda during the G8 summit at Gleneagles this summer. But neither party has put any effort into raising the issue during the election.'

'This conspiracy of silence does neither party any credit. Urgent decisions must soon be taken on transport, energy and industrial policy if the UK its carbon dioxide reduction targets. Our political parties must move the debate away from the margins to drive home the urgency of the situation,' Juniper said.

Last September both Blair and Howard made key speeches on the threat of global warming. Blair described climate change as 'the world's greatest environmental challenge' and 'so far reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence.'

He promised that along with Africa, climate change will be 'our top priority' at this year's G8 summit, which the UK will chair.

But Friends of the Earth points out that since Labour came to power in 1997, 'UK emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have risen to such a level that the Britain's target under the Kyoto protocol - the international treaty to combat climate change - is now be in jeopardy.'

Howard also warned last September that 'Climate change is one of mankind's greatest challenges' and said, 'The urgency of global warming means that fine words are no longer enough. We need action…I want the Conservatives to carry on leading this debate. And we will.'

But Howard surprised Conservatives today by announcing that he intends to stand down as party leader 'sooner rather than later.' Hours after Conservatives made what Howard called a 'huge step forward,' he announced plans to quit so that a new, younger leader can prepare the party for the next election contest in four or five years.

The Conservative manifesto gives less prominence to the environment than the other main parties, and does little to give the impression that climate change is much of a threat at all. A separate 'green manifesto' does contain a number of initiatives on combating climate change.

The Liberal Democrats put the environment at the heart of their manifesto, described by leader Charles Kennedy as a 'green thread of environmental awareness and urgency' in Liberal Democrat thinking. The party has also raised environmental issues during the campaign as an electoral issue.

In the election run-up Greenpeace UK surveyed the main parties on climate change and says the results show they are 'failing to live up to their rhetoric about the threat to the environment.'

'What we have are a load of shallow careerist politicians trying to get more votes,' said Greenpeace Executive Director Stephen Tindale.

Labour scored only 38 percent in the challenge on climate change - just one point ahead of the Tories with 37 percent. The Liberal Democrats came out on top with 61 percent but have a poor record in local government.

But environmentalists have their doubts. For example the Liberal Democrat candidate for Penrith opposed the Whinash wind farm in Cumbria.

The conflict over the Whinash wind farm has surfaced in a public inquiry now underway that began on April 19. Chalmerston Wind Power Ltd and West Coast Energy want to build 27 turbines each almost 400 feet high at Whinash in the scenic Lake District. The line of turbines would stretch seven kilometers to the Yorkshire Dales.

The inquiry is expected to be pivotal for the future of wind farms in rural areas, weighing the visual impact of the turbines against the benefits of tackling climate change by producing significant amounts of renewable energy.

Proponents say the clean energy these turbines would produce would power 46,000 homes without generating greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics say the giant wind turbines would destroy the area's natural beatuy and its lucrative tourist industry.

Environmental groups back the plans, but they are opposed by tourism leaders who worry that a 'dangerous precedent' will be set.

South Lakeland Friends of the Earth collected more than seven hundred letters from local people in support of the wind farm and sent these to the Department of Trade and Industry and to the Public Inquiry Office.

One resident of Tebay wrote that they felt unable to speak out publicly in support of the development because of the vitriolic nature of the campaign against the wind farm. The inquiry, which is expected to last five weeks, is taking place at the Shap Wells Hotel, near Penrith, Cumbria.

Jill Perry, energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth said, ''I'm amazed that people are claiming that the area should be designated a National Park. What kind of National Park has a motorway running through it? People need to wake up to the fact that climate change will happen and it's not good enough to pretend that we can sit back for the next few years thinking about the solutions.'

A Carlisle resident, who supported South Lakeland Friends of the Earth's campaign, said, 'It's about time something was done to tackle climate change. I am still waiting to return to my house after the January floods. I can't believe people are objecting to this, when we're faced with the prospect of more severe weather in the future. It's unbelievably short-sighted.'

Cumbria is one of the windiest counties in England, but as it has many areas designated for conservation, the sites available for building land based wind farms are limited.

Wind farms are not the only renewable energy effort being made in the British Isles. The world's first office block powered by wind, rain and sun is to be built in Scotland in an effort to show that environmentally friendly energy can meet the needs of commercial enterprise.

The £3.2 million Hydrogen Office will generate its own electricity using two wind turbines, solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cells enable excess electricity to be stored in the form of hydrogen made from water and then used during dark, windless days.

The Scottish Executive says the project received a grant of £1.1 million from a European Union fund. The Green Building Press reports that the office will be built somewhere in Midlothian, although the actual site has not yet been chosen, and is expected to open early in 2007.

But according to the Greenpeace survey of the three major parties on renewable energy, all three need to improve their policies on this climate issue.

In the case of Labour, 'More support for renewable energy is needed than the Labour Party are offering,' said Greenpeace after compiling the survey results.

'The Tories' attitude towards onshore wind is obstructive given this technology is extremely cost effective and market ready and large volumes are awaiting planning permission. Michael Howard has proactively campaigned against Romney Marsh wind farm next to Dungeness,' Greenpeace said.

While, the Liberal Democrats have specific 2020 and 2050 renewable energy targets, they would only match Labour's spending on the environment. And still, Lib Dem candidates and councils oppose wind developments, the survey found.

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