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new data confirms UK will double Kyoto emission targets

Government hails 23 per cent cut in emissions since 1990 as evidence "there is an alternative" to a high carbon society

The UK will today mark World Environment Day with the release of new data showing the country is on track to deliver emission cuts that are almost double its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

According to a new UN report, UK greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 23 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010, far exceeding its official target of a 12.5 per cent reduction in emissions.

Climate change minister Joan Ruddock insisted that while there was plenty of work still to be done, the cuts delivered so far provided evidence that economies could continue to grow while delivering rapid cuts in carbon emissions.

"Our latest report to the UN shows what can be achieved when government, communities and business work together to reduce emissions," she said. "Our progress report tells those who claim there is no alternative to a high-carbon society: there is an alternative. We're creating an alternative."

However, the news is likely to receive a muted welcome from green groups, who have repeatedly argued the UK's reduction in emissions over the last 20 years are more the result of the shift in the energy mix away from gas and towards coal, rather than any government policies.

"It's good news that that the UK will more than meet its Kyoto obligations - though this partly reflects the fact that it was not a very tough target and the impact of the dash for gas under the last Conservative government," said Friends of the Earth's campaigns director Mike Childs. "Since Labour came to power, UK carbon dioxide emissions have barely fallen when shipping and aviation are taken into account."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change countered that there was evidence actiosn taken by government and businesses had contributed to the cuts in emissions.

"It's true some of the fall in emissions is due to the swutch to gas, but there other reasons behind the cuts," she said. "Reduced use of fossil fuels by industry, climate change agreements with businesses and the European Emissions Trading Scheme have all played a part."

The data was released as the government announced it is to launch a new web site designed to provide people with information on the Copenhagen negotiations to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. It said the new site would provide information on the UK's negotiating position, and links to petitions urging world governments to reach a meaningful agreement at UN talks at the end of this year.

In related news, business secretary Lord Mandelson will today deliver a speech at the London School of Economics in which he will offer a preview of the government's imminent low-carbon industrial strategy.

He will say that the new strategy, which is due to be released this summer, will be built on three principles: "a long-term strategic approach from government; a pragmatic approach to the role of both markets and the state, and a recognition that we should be actively equipping our people to supply the demand created by climate change targets."

He will also outline how these principles will manifest themselves in the government's willingness to intervene in markets to create a price on carbon, create demand for low-carbon products through public sector procurement, and invest in low carbon infrastructure such as new grid and electric car recharging technologies.

In addition, the speech will offer a boost for small- and medium-sized businesses, through confirmation that the government is looking at forming a public-private innovation fund to provide growth capital for high-tech SMEs, many of which will be operating in the low carbon sector.

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