BRITAIN TOOK a significant step towards meeting the challenge of global warming yesterday by officially adopting a green energy policy for the first time.
In the long-awaited Energy White Paper, the Government signalled a radical shift in approach by making the principal priority of energy policy not security of supply or social justice, as in the past, but protection of the environment.
In future, the overriding objective in running the energy sector will be to produce a "low-carbon economy" and to work towards a massive 60 per cent cut in emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, during the next 50 years. The 60 per cent cut was recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution three years ago as the minimum necessary to stabilise climate change and yesterday marked its official incorporation into policy.
The Government hopes to achieve it by boosting energy efficiency across all sectors of society, and by giving a substantial new impetus to renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and wave power. It will also push new "clean fuel" technologies for transport, and bring in a new carbon trading scheme from 2005 that will make carbon dioxide emissions subject to permits, which it is hoped will drive CO2 use firmly down
The option of giving a fresh boost to nuclear power, which is carbon- free and has been tempting to some ministers, has not been taken up. While not entirely ruled out, the idea of building new nuclear power stations has been put firmly on hold. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary who launched the White Paper, said she believed the 60 per cent CO2 reduction could be achieved without recourse to nuclear.
Yesterday, there were criticisms of the detail in the White Paper, with green groups and parts of the renewable energy industry saying some targets were not ambitious enough or others were missing entirely - for example, there were no measures announced to curb the runaway growth in CO2 emissions from road traffic or from aviation,
But even environmentalists conceded the historic nature of the shift in policy emphasis. "Britain's got a green energy policy at last," said Roger Higman, energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
The White Paper sets out four goals: to work towards cutting emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2050; to main the reliability of energy supplies; to promote competitive energy markets in the UK and beyond; and to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated. …