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U.K.: Blair Announces Ambitious Clean-Energy Targets

Britain has unveiled a new plan to reduce environmental pollution from energy generation through a switch to cleaner, "renewable" means such as wind, solar power, and ocean tides.

London, 25 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday unveiled an ambitious plan to increase the use of cleaner forms of energy in power generation. The plan envisages a substantial reduction in industrial pollution by carbon dioxide by 2050 to be achieved by encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy.

At the same time, the plan, formulated by the Department of Trade and Industry, foresees a reduction in the use of fossil fuels and the gradual phasing out of nuclear-power stations that at present supply some 25 percent of Britain's energy needs. "Britain will agree to the [target] of a 60 percent reduction in emissions for Britain by 2050, and I am committed now to putting us on a path, over the next few years, toward that target," Blair said.

The report notes that Britain is to become a net importer of gas by 2006 and oil by 2010. It says in order not to become dependent on volatile international markets, various new ways of energy generation should be developed. It also sets aside an investment sum of 350 million pounds ($550.5 million) for research and development of those new ways and new technologies, so that the first-stage target of generating 10 percent of electricity from renewable resources could be achieved by 2010 and 20 percent 10 years later.

Blair pointed out that his government is trying to make the outlined targets official EU policy guidelines. "As a first step, we are working extensively with our European partners to agree a 60 percent target for the EU as a whole for reduction. I wrote today a joint letter with the prime minister of Sweden to the Greek prime minister in his capacity as president of the European Council. In it, we confirm our ambition," Blair said.

Blair has also indicated that he would be seeking collaboration from the EU candidate countries and the U.S., so that a new "international covenant" could be agreed. "We will continue to work also with our partners from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, to help extend the EU commitment to sustainable development further across the continent. And we will continue to make the case to the U.S. and to others that climate change is a serious threat that we must address together as an international community," he said.

As for phasing out the existing 16 nuclear-power stations, they should reach the end of their planned usefulness by about 2030 and it is not expected that any new ones would be built for the next five years. The problem, however, is that according to some experts, there may be a gap in electricity generation without any continuation of the nuclear program, especially when fossil-fuel use is expected to remain at current levels.

Other experts ask whether the plan would be acceptable to the general public, which would face a 5 percent to 15 percent rise in electricity bills, and to manufacturing industries, which would have to pay some 25 percent more for electricity and up to 30 percent more for gas.