Conservative leader David Cameron has set up a policy group on the environment to pave the way for "tough decisions" on cutting greenhouse gas. The group, chaired by ex-Environment Secretary John Gummer and environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, will look at "quality of life" issues. Mr Cameron says he will finalise policies in 18 months' time following the group's recommendations.

Labour said policies, not "platitudes", were needed to help the environment. The new policy group is one of six which Mr Cameron intends to set up to help decide future party policy. Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is already looking at social justice, while former chancellor Ken Clarke is to head a "democracy taskforce".

Mr Cameron has highlighted the environment, and in particular climate change, as a key area of concern. He launched the policy review group at the London Wetland Centre where he met members of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Zac Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist magazine, will work alongside Mr Gummer, meeting environmental groups to discuss policy proposals.

Mr Goldsmith was recently accepted on to the Conservatives' approved candidates' list. Evidence given to the policy group will be published on the internet. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Cameron said the Conservatives needed to take 18 months to understand the challenges before announcing new policies.

"The real test will come in 18 months' time when we have to show we are prepared to take the tough decisions necessary to meet the carbon reduction targets and other environmental challenges," he said. Mr Cameron said he believed in "green growth", arguing that environmentally-friendly measures did not have to stifle the economy. "We don't want people to go and live like monks," he said.

He suggested using more biofuels was one way of reducing pollution from cars. Mr Cameron also wants a new independent carbon audit office to measure progress on meeting the target of cutting carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. He said he was not worried about Labour stealing his policies - in fact, he wanted that to happen so action was taken. Mr Goldsmith said the policy group would pull together existing ideas which were not being translated into political reality.

"It is an invitation to be radical," he said. Tony Juniper, from Friends of the Earth, welcomed the group. But he said: "Although the policy group will take 18 months to report, it is crucial for Mr Cameron and the Conservative party to continue to push for urgent political action on climate change."

Labour Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw said Mr Cameron had failed to mention climate change when he wrote the last Tory election manifesto. And he said the Conservatives had opposed many of the government's measures on the issue. "The Tories need to set out new policies, not platitudes," said Mr Bradshaw.

"Otherwise people will conclude that they are simply putting a new gloss on the same old policies." Lib Dem environment spokesman Norman Baker said "Punch and Judy" politics was not delivering on these issues and cross-party consensus was needed. "We welcome the fact that David Cameron has highlighted the issue so early in his tenure but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating," said Mr Baker. The Green Party challenged Mr Cameron to commit a 12-point plan including calls for an end to aviation tax breaks, the road building programme to be scrapped and £2bn in "ecotaxes".


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