Environment Secretary Hilary Benn and his Tory and Liberal Democrat counterparts, joined Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper to answer some challenging Climate Change Bill questions last night at a packed out public meeting in Central London.
Over 1,000 campaigners crammed into Friends Meeting House, Euston for the event hosted by Friends of the Earth (FoE), supported Stop Climate Chaos (SCC) and chaired by Anne McElvoy of the Evening Standard, .
Opening the debate, the outgoing director of FoE welcomed the Climate Change Bill but said that if other countries followed the UK's example - and only aimed for a 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 - this would lead to dangerous temperature rises of 4-5 degrees C. Both FoE and SCC have been actively campaigning for an 80% reduction target.
Mr Juniper also pushed the case for the Prime Minister to take overall responsibility for the UK’s emissions, saying that one Government department could not oversee the CO2 generated activities of another.
This sentiment was later echoed by Conservative Shadow Environment Minister, Peter Ainsworth, who questioned how much “leverage” the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would have over energy-heavy departments such as transport and housing.
Mr Benn attempted to pre-empt questions regarding the controversial 60% target. The head of Defra said that both he and the Prime Minister had read “the science” and reiterated that he had charged the newly formed Independent Committee on Climate Change to review the target and return their findings by December 2008.
However, this was later countered by the Liberal Democrats environment spokesperson, Steve Webb, who said, "we need the right number on the Bill now, not by Christmas”.
Mr Benn also claimed that emissions from international aviation and shipping are an international problem and would need to be addressed at a European level through the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Once again, Mr Webb challenged the minister saying: “The Government should include aviation emissions in the Bill from the start. The Law should be a statement of intention - the detail can be worked out later on.”
All three politicians congratulated FoE and SCC supporters for their role in making the Climate Change Bill happen.
Mr Benn described it as a "demonstration of politics at its best", while Mr Webb said: “I see power in this room. Not one of us has failed to have been inundated with postcards, letters and visits from you on the Climate Change Bill. The volume of this campaign has made us think again”.
Mr Webb also received the biggest laugh of the evening when he attributed to Peter Ainsworth the acronym NIMTO - ‘Not in my term of office’.
The general consensus of the event was that nothing new had really come to light. However, the fact that all three main political parties at a senior level had responded to our issues and concerns was viewed as very encouraging.