Missed green targets could cost Britain dearly: lawmakers

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s government is in danger of missing its own targets on cutting public sector greenhouse gas emissions and taxpayers could end up paying for the failure, an influential group of lawmakers said on Wednesday.

In a critical report, a parliamentary committee said the government had made “little or no progress” in too many areas and may have to pay private companies to help meet its emissions targets.

Britain, which was the first country to set legally-binding national targets, has led calls for a tougher international deal on reducing greenhouse gases to help counter global warming.

It aims to cut its emissions by 34 percent by 2020, from 1990 levels, and wants other countries to accept a new climate change deal at talks in Copenhagen in December.

“Unless the government gets its house in order, taxpayers could end up paying a heavy price to buy carbon credits from the private sector,” said Tim Yeo, chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, which compiled the report.

From April 2010, all British government departments, some other public sector bodies and private companies including banks and retailers, will take part in an emissions trading scheme, called the Carbon Reduction Commitment.

With about 5,000 members, it will cover carbon dioxide emissions not already included in the European Union’s trading scheme and other climate change agreements.

If government departments miss carbon reduction targets, they will have to buy allowances from other scheme members.

“This means that poor performance by government departments could result in their having to pay large sums of money to the private sector,” the report said.

The committee urged the government to try to estimate how much it could have to pay out and publish plans to reduce the risk of losing taxpayers’ money.

Lawmakers said they were unconvinced by government assurances that it will exceed its target of cutting public sector carbon emissions by 12.5 percent by 2010-11.

The proportion of renewable energy, such as wind or solar power, used in government buildings fell to 22 percent in 2007-08 from 28.3 percent in 2006-07, the report said. Recycling rates fell to 35 percent from 38.5 percent in the same period.

“Cutting government energy bills with better insulation, solar panels and new heat and power boilers could save us lots of money in the long run, but ministers have so far lacked the vision to invest for the future,” Yeo said.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth said the government had made some progress, although “there is much more it can and must do.”

Editing by James Jukwey