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February 14, 2005 3:41 PM
Industrial chimney pollution (smoke).

Davies: "This hardly makes us look like world leaders in the battle against climate change."

The UK government has been accused of sacrificing its claims to leadership on climate change by picking an unnecessary and self-defeating fight with the European Commission.

Today Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett was set to announce the individual limits for carbon emissions from major energy users included within the EU's emissions trading scheme.

But the European Commission is still refusing to accept the revised national allocations plan submitted by Britain, which scales back on its earlier commitments to cut emissions.

It means that the UK, which has said that climate change will be a key priority for its future presidency of the European Union, will find itself excluded indefinitely from the emissions trading scheme, the EU's most important instrument for tackling global warming.

The scheme, which came into operation on 1 January, enables Europe's 20,000 largest energy using companies to buy and sell licenses to emit carbon dioxide within a gradually reducing national allocation set jointly by governments and the European Commission.

Britain's national allocation plan, calling for a 5% reduction in emissions over the 3-year lifetime of the scheme, was approved by the Commission last July. But in October the Government submitted a revised plan, pleading that it had underestimated the volume of gases currently being released and arguing that industry would be placed at a competitive disadvantage.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas last month gave MEPs in Strasbourg an indication that the revised plan would not be approved. Privately his officials claim that the Government has put him in an impossible position. To relax the targets already agreed with Britain would open the floodgates to similar demands from other member states, undermining the entire scheme.

Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies is his party's environment spokesman in the European Parliament. He accused Ministers of leaving British companies confused and uncertain.

"How can businesses plan their future energy strategies with Britain excluded from the emissions trading scheme? With the Kyoto Protocol coming into force this week, this hardly makes us look like world leaders in the battle against climate change."

The plan approved by the European Commission last year envisages that the UK will emit 736m tonnes of carbon dioxide in the years to 2008. The Government has now called for this to be increased by a further 19.8m tonnes and has threatened the Commission with legal action if it refuses.

Mr Davies said: "The targets that have already been approved by Brussels are the ones that Britain set for itself. Margaret Beckett is calling now for the rules of the game to be changed but the Commission has no room for manoeuvre and believes it has the law on its side.

"The Government has picked a fight it cannot win without destroying Europe's attempts to combat climate change."

The Commission has approved allocations for 9,108 industrial installations in 21 member states expected to produce 4.6bn tonnes of carbon dioxide over the period 2005-7. Spot trading of allowances can begin once authorities have transferred their allocations into an allowance registry managed by the Commission. The legal deadline for this is 28 February, with little sign of this being achieved by the UK.