The UK Government looks set to breach its target under the Kyoto Protocol as new government figures reveal that carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise in the first six months of this year. Analysis of the data by Friends of the Earth shows that carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.5 per cent in the first half of this year.

The new figures should embarrass Tony Blair who is in Beijing for EU bilateral summits with India and China where climate change is due to be discussed. The Prime Minister and others in Government have previously claimed that the UK has already met its Kyoto targets and Labour claimed in its 2005 manifesto that its Kyoto obligations were “already met”.

The figures show that the Government has failed to get carbon dioxide emissions under control. Friends of the Earth said the rising trend showed that the Government urgently needed to act to reduce emission levels. Friends of the Earth, a founder member of Stop Climate Chaos, is calling on the Government to introduce a legal framework for annual cuts in carbon dioxide emissions given the urgent need to control climate change.

This November the Government plans to publish its long delayed review of its Climate Change Programme, the most important environment strategy since the Government came to power in 1997. Friends of the Earth Executive Director Tony Juniper said: “The great failing at the heart of this Government’s policy on climate change is now very clear. While Tony Blair has rightly recognised the scale of the problem he and his ministers have not taken the steps necessary to ensure that transport, energy and economic policies actually cut carbon emissions.

“Britain's credibility as a leader on climate change is now in serious danger and urgent steps must be taken. The Government must deliver year-on-year cuts in carbon dioxide emissions to meet its domestic and international obligations. If it doesn’t then the very positive influence that the UK has had at the global level will be lost.”

The Kyoto Protocol requires the Government to reduce emissions of a "basket" of six greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent below the 1990 bench levels during the 2008 – 2012 period. Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas, and is the one the Government has struggled to control. According to these latest figures, published by the Department of Trade and Industry, emissions of CO2 have risen 5.5% since 1997 when Labour came to power. If emissions for the second half of this year continue to be as high as in the first six months of the year, carbon dioxide emissions for 2005 would increase to 162.4 mega tonnes of carbon (MtC). Breaching the Kyoto target should be a major embarrassment for Ministers.

When Labour came to power, meeting Kyoto was considered to be straightforward for the UK. Carbon dioxide emissions had been cut in the early 1990s by a shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector, while emissions of other greenhouse gases were falling due to changes in industrial practices. As a result, the Labour Party promised to meet a much tougher and unilateral domestic target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 (on a 1990 level). This target was included in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 election manifestos. Ministers have since accepted the 20% domestic target cannot be met with current policies and are reviewing policy. But they have continued to claim success on the Kyoto targets. These new figures make such claims premature, and leave Ministers with little to point to by way of progress in tackling climate change.