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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 19 Nov 2007


Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: PM's Environment Speech

Afternoon press briefing from 19 November 2007

PM's Environment Speech

The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) began by highlighting a number of points from the Prime Minister's speech on the environment. Firstly, the Prime Minister referred to asking the Committee on Climate Change whether we should go beyond the 60% target for 2050, he went on to say that our own domestic targets should be tightened up to 80%.

Later in the speech the Prime Minister referred to plastic bags as an illustration as kind of smaller behavioural changes that may be necessary. He then referred to the Government convening a forum of the supermarkets to urgently assess together how and how quickly this reduction could be achieved.

We had a joint initiative with the French to persuade the European Commission to include environmentally friendly products on the list of products eligible for a lower rate of VAT. So one of the options that may be considered, if we could get the Commission to agree, might be a lower rate of VAT on alternative products to single use plastic bags.

Asked on the last point if any contacts had been made with the Commission, the PMS replied that we already had in general terms lobbied back in July to extend the range of products that are eligible for a lower rate of VAT to include environmentally friendly products.

Asked about increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister did emphasise in his speech the growing importance of renewable energy in the future. Clearly there would need to be a European process for deciding what the Prime Minister described as "our fair share" of the 20% European target, and that was something we expected in the new year.

Asked if the Prime Minister was quite so enthusiastic about renewables, why was the renewable energy strategy not coming out until spring 2009, the PMS replied that clearly this was a very big and wide ranging set of issues that needed to be looked at across Government. He would check as to why there were any particular reasons for that timetable, but the Prime Minister was signalling the importance of renewable energy going forward and indicating the types of things the Government might do in order to encourage it.

Put that the whole tenor of the speech was one of urgency, yet it comes to a grinding halt on page 15 where it said we will launch a consultation next year, the PMS replied that if we were talking about a significant expansion of wind farms for example, obviously as the Prime Minister recognised in the speech, this did raise issues for local communities and others that needed to be looked at. But nobody should be in any doubt about the significance the Prime Minister attached to this particular strategy.

Asked about wind farms and local communities benefiting from the economic opportunities they created, and was the idea that you could get cheaper electricity if you had a wind farm in your community for example, the PMS replied that these were the sorts of issues that might be explored.

Asked if we would be looking to ban plastic bags, the PMS replied that at the moment we were talking about working with the supermarkets and trying to make progress on a voluntary basis.

Asked about a report published today on the potential economic benefits to green technology, the PMS replied that he would chase this up.

Asked when talking about "Britain's fair share" if we had a figure in mind, the PMS replied that we would have to see what the European Commission came up with.

Put that surely we would be advocating a figure, and would not just go there and wait to be told, the PMS replied that the process would be that the European Commission proposes a figure which would then be agreed in the relevant council.

Asked if we were saying that if France, Germany and Italy for example could provide 19% of the energy produced in Europe by renewables, we could get away with the rest, the PMS replied that we started from a position where we have a very low rate of renewable energy production in this country. This was something that the Commission would take into account in any deliberations, as they have said.

The Prime Minister was setting out quite clearly his determination to ensure that renewables become a significant component of Britain's energy production in the future.

ENDS

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