Lords fuel climate change row with blow to Kyoto

Key points

• Lords report finds Kyoto targets will make little change to global warming

• Report echoes US criticisms of ecological treaty's economic damage

• White House chairman predicts compromise on climate issues at start of G8

Key quote

"The Kyoto Protocol makes little difference to rates of global warming and has a naive compliance mechanism, which can only deter countries from signing up to subsequent tighter emissions targets" - House of Lords report

Story in full THE Kyoto Protocol has been rubbished by a heavyweight committee of peers, on the day that Tony Blair opens the G8 summit with a focus on global warming.

A cross-party House of Lords report today finds that the Kyoto targets will make "little difference" to the pace of global warming and has called for Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to calculate how much it is costing Britain.

The report will deal a damaging blow both to Mr Blair's attempt to present a "consensus" behind global warming, and demands that the United States agrees to Kyoto in a G8 declaration tomorrow.

In a report seemingly timed to have maximum impact on the G8, which is due to release its climate change communique tomorrow, the peers said that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-backed environmental watchdog, is tainted by "political interference".

Policymakers were too focused on mitigating climate change, rather than adapting to it, they said.

Lord Lawson, a former chancellor and committee member, was critical of the way that Kyoto targets for greenhouse gas emissions had been "subcontracted" to the IPCC, which he described as "very, very flawed".

An issue so central to Britain's economy should be decided by the government, he said. "I can tell you that I was astonished when the Treasury witness said that the Treasury really wasn't involved in any serious way in this at all," he said.

"When I was chancellor, it would have been unthinkable on a matter as important as economic affairs - important in public expenditure terms - that the Treasury was not making a very thorough analysis of the issue."

The committee expressed sympathy with the United States, whose Senate voted unanimously against any climate-change treaty that could damage the economy without imposing conditions on developing countries.

Instead of trying to coerce the US president, George Bush, into signing up to the Kyoto Protocol, the UK should abandon the treaty and explore alternatives based on agreements over carbon-free technology.

"We are concerned that the international negotiations on climate-change reduction will be ineffective because of the preoccupation with setting emissions targets," the report said.

"The Kyoto Protocol makes little difference to rates of global warming and has a naive compliance mechanism, which can only deter countries from signing up to subsequent tighter emissions targets."

Since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, scientists have established that it would simply mean global temperature rising by 2.35C rather than 2.5C by 2100.

The House of Lords called for a carbon tax to replace the climate-change levy, while warning that policies such as saving energy and renewables were based on "dubious assumptions".

The report was angrily attacked by environmental campaigners yesterday. Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said there was no obsession with targets.

"The idea that we will make progress on tackling climate change without having some sort of targets is ludicrous. Without targets, there is no incentive."

Meanwhile, Mr Bush has come a long way towards agreeing with campaigners on some of the basic issues. He said in an ITV interview on Monday that the planet is warming and "obviously" man is partly responsible.

He is likely to repeat this in a G8 declaration tomorrow, in what may be described by UK ministers as a significant concession. But in Washington, aides have rounded on the European consensus on Kyoto. The president's top environmental adviser yesterday attacked European countries for their "narrow" view of global warming.

Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the White House, predicted that the G8 summit starting today in Gleneagles will end without narrowing the gap between the US and Europe over climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, to cut emissions.

Pre-summit talks to prepare the ground for a final declaration are heading towards division, the adviser said. "There's a reflection of the fact that a number of the countries are proceeding with Kyoto and some other countries are pursuing their own strategy," Mr Connaughton told US journalists before the president took off for Scotland.

Climate change and its causes is a contentious issue, dividing nations and scientists. One puzzling anomaly is the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand, which has been growing, rather than receding, at a rate of 12ft a day, apparently bucking the expectations that glaciers would recede in a warmer environment.

The British government has argued that there is a clear consensus, which the US must accept. But the implementation of Kyoto four months ago has revived the debate, showing that the facts remain in dispute.

The G8 will discuss climate change tomorrow. The draft communique, which has been widely leaked, simply restates the general principles - and speaks of the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ministers are hoping that the US will agree to an ongoing dialogue with India and China, who in 1997 were considered too poor to sign Kyoto. There will also be agreement on the importance of new fuel technologies.

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