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The Times: Blair told to come clean over carbon emissions targets

By Michael Binyon
Business leaders reveal their agenda for action pre-2025 
TOP business leaders pressed Tony Blair yesterday to avoid uncertainty for companies and investors over carbon emissions targets by telling them urgently what ministers propose.

Companies should be told as soon as possible the targets for emissions in 2025 so that they could plan ahead and invest in promising low-carbon technology, the 14 businessmen representing the Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change said in a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister. 
Otherwise, they said, there would be uncertainty beyond 2012, the current deadline for significant reductions under the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EMS). Unless the Government undertook to promote new technologies that cut carbon emissions, business would be unable to exploit Britain’s competitive advantage in this area.

The group included James Smith, chairman of Shell UK, and Mervyn Davies, group chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank. Among the others meeting Mr Blair were: Neil Carson, of Johnson Matthey; Ian Cheshire, of B&Q; Sir Stuart Hampson, of John Lewis Partnership; Sir Julian Horn-Smith, of Vodafone Group; Gavin Neath, of Unilever; Lucy Neville-Rolfe, of Tesco; and Hugh Scott-Barrett, of ABN Amro. Alain Grisay, chief executive of F&C Asset Management, represented the only investment firm in the group.

Presenting a detailed agenda for action, the group called, above all, for greater certainty on the future of the EU carbon market. Targets should be set now for the year 2025, they said. Britain and the EU should reduce competition of cheap imports from countries outside the EMS by offering the countries strong incentives to take part in the scheme. Aviation and other sectors likely to generate an increasing share of overall emissions should be included in the scheme.

“The (EMS) is critically important for providing a central signal to business about the rising cost of carbon,” the agenda says. But as well as setting up a long-term carbon pricing regime, policies were needed that swiftly could bolster the technology of carbon capture and storage, hydrogen storage, tidal and wave generation and new transport technologies.

“We are offering to work with the Government to assess a range of policy approaches, including public investment in infrastructure, ‘stretch’ regulation and forward procurement,” the businessmen said.

They gave warning that many low-carbon technologies, such as fuel cells and energyefficient lighting, needed more investment to bring down costs and enable them to be commercialised. They often did not make it to the market because the uncertainty of future sales made it too risky to invest in the demonstration projects and scaling up production.

Public sector procurement was failing badly in this area, and government departments should, therefore, do much more to buy products with low carbon emissions so as to bring down the cost of development.

“We believe such action will create significant competitive advantages for the UK by helping to drive the commercialisation of low-carbon products and services,” they said.

“It is clear that neither business nor government can move fast enough to tackle climate change without the support of the public. Consumers and voters need to understand the scale of the challenge that we face and the actions that they can take to help tackle it.”

Raising public awareness, however, would take a sustained effort over many years. Business leaders, therefore, were proposing a new partnership to persuade the public to take action on climate change.

There should be proposals to save energy in the home and there should be a code to make new houses more energy efficient. On transport, there was a need for variable road pricing and congestion charging and public procurement of low-emission vehicles. The group called on the Government to take a lead internationally in boosting investment in low-carbon technology.

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