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Kennedy Attacks Bush on Environmental Record

May 18, 2004 4:49 PM

Clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a clean place to live are all issues that must be tackled by local, national, European and world leaders working together, Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy said today.

Mr Kennedy expressed dismay that Tony Blair has not used his so-called 'special relationship' with George W Bush to persuade the United States to take a more responsible approach on the environment. The United States has less than 5% of the world's population, yet produces nearly a quarter of all CO2 emissions, more than any other country. Highlighting action to clean up our environment as a key LibDem campaign theme in the run up to local and European elections on June 10, Mr Kennedy said:

"We are here today to say that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to put the environment at the heart of local government. At the heart of your local town hall, and at the heart of the European Parliament in Brussels too.

"Labour has failed us on environmental issues. It has failed at local level, it has failed nationally, and it has failed on the world stage too. Mr. Blair claims to be close to George Bush. But on this, as on so many things, that relationship has not benefited the environment.

"This White House has withdrawn the US from the Kyoto Treaty, slashed its environmental budgets by $2.3b, refuses to accept the scientific consensus and continues to assert that climate change is 'not a fact'. It has even censored its own Environmental Protection Agency by removing references to climate change from its official report.

"When the Bush Administration - representing a country with 5% of the world's population but accounting for a quarter of all CO2 emissions - refuses to take seriously even the proposition of climate change, it is gambling with all our futures.

"It is time the European Union stepped into the vacuum that the US is leaving and leads the push to raise environmental standards world-wide. The environment should be a priority for Britain in Brussels. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to ensure that it is.

"Labour has failed locally too, failed to recognise that caring for the local environment means a better quality of life. We can't all live in the leafy villages, but every council can do a great deal to improve the local environment and promote sustainable living.

"Liberal Democrat councils up and down the country are working hard to recycle more of our rubbish, reduce the impact of traffic fumes on our streets and ensure that environmental sustainability is central to planning decisions.

"Of the major parties, only the Liberal Democrats make the environment a priority. This June, voting Liberal Democrats, is a vote for a cleaner and greener Britain, and a cleaner, greener Europe too."

Charles Kennedy was joined at the election campaign press conference by Chris Davies MEP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on the Environment in the European Parliament, and Sarah Ludford MEP, Liberal Democrat MEP for London who takes a keen interest in environmental issues in the capital.

Mr Davies said:

"There are some problems which individual countries simply cannot tackle alone, such as pollution and climate change. Dirty, polluted air does not respect national boundaries. A river polluted in one country often blights the lives of people who live in another. Seawater polluted by one nation washes up on the beaches of another.

"Protecting our environment is one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st Century. And we can only meet that challenge by countries working together. European laws have already provided the stimulus for major improvements in the UK environment.

"EU River and Water Quality legislation, such as the Bathing Water and Urban Waste Water Directives have the potential to compel successive governments to make a real difference. European legislation is and can make a real difference to our lives.

"But there is so much more that needs to be done to protect the environment, not just in our lifetime, but for our children and our children's children. Liberal Democrats want the enforcement procedures for EU environmental laws to be strengthened and applied equally and effectively throughout the wider EU, so that our environment can be protected for future generations."

Sarah Ludford said:

"Liberal Democrats support the way Europe is improving the quality of life for Londoners. EU air quality limits are preventing the building of an unpopular Heathrow third runway, and we look forward to EU recycling laws solving the problem of abandoned cars.

"Europe is putting the environment at the top of the agenda in a way Labour in the UK has failed to do. For Londoners this is crucial. A city struggling to cope with its waste problem, and suffering ill health from air pollution is not the future I want for Londoners.

"As I meet people during this campaign, the environment is high on the list of issues where they feel let down by Labour. Tony Blair can certainly spin a line that sounds eco-friendly but the reality is rather different.

"My constituents are angry that Labour listens to big business rather than them over airport expansion - even if the government has been frustrated for now by EU air quality limits from expanding Heathrow.

"They're furious that Monsanto was more listened to than the public over GM crops, but grateful that the EU tough labelling requirements righted the balance.

"And as more and more London kids sufferer from asthma, families ask why we can't have European standards of rail and Tube provision so there are fewer cars and lorries on our roads.

"Warm words for the environment mean nothing if you don't have the political will to follow it through. In the European Parliament Liberal Democrat MEPs are at the top of the league for supporting environmental legislation while Labour and the Tories languish far below.

"Protecting our planet involves means supporting the EU and working together on the international stage. It means telling the US as well as Russia when they've got it wrong. Future generations won't care about Tony Blair's popularity with George Bush. They will care about the quality of their water and air."