Gordon Brown's Budget set out some helpful steps toward meeting the huge challenge posed by climate change, Friends of the Earth said today.

However, the environmental campaign group said that while a number of measures announced today do take policy in a more positive direction, they will collectively only make a small impact on emissions. Some measures are disappointingly weak.

Carbon dioxide levels have now reached record concentrations in the atmosphere and if action is not taken immediately it may soon be too late to avoid catastrophic impacts arising from global warming.

Friends of the Earth said that the measures set out by the Chancellor were not enough to enable the Government to achieve its target to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 per cent compared to 1990 levels, a promise repeated in the last three Labour General Election manifestos.

In recent years carbon emissions have been rising, and much greater action is needed to reverse this trend and deliver the major cuts needed. Friends of the Earth welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment to an annual carbon report, which is one of the main aims of the group’s Big Ask campaign. However, the group said that such a report needed to be linked to a statutory requirement for annual cuts in climate changing pollution.

Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper said: “At long last the Chancellor appears to be waking up to the enormous threat posed by climate change, and is taking some steps to put us in a better position to act. However, the measures announced today are still insufficient. Making urban owners of big gas-guzzlers pay an extra £40 a year, about the equivalent of a cappuccino a month, is unlikely to encourage them to drive greener cars.”

“Carbon dioxide emissions have risen under Labour. The Government must set mandatory targets to reduce this pollution each year in line with a clear carbon budget to ensure that its strategy is kept on course. If the political will is there, the UK could lead the world in developing a low-carbon, nuclear free economy”. In relation to specific decisions, Friends of the Earth makes the following observations:

• On annual road tax, the decision to increase the top rate for the most polluting vehicles to £210 is utterly inadequate. This will not result in the widespread uptake of cleaner vehicles, and will, therefore, not reduce the rising contribution to climate change from the transport sector. However, the decision to cut the lowest two bands for the cleanest vehicles is very welcome.

• The decisions to retain the freeze on road fuel duty will increase carbon dioxide emissions, as will the freeze on air passenger duty.

• The decision to take a proposal to the World Bank regarding a large fund for new technologies for developing countries is welcome.

• The decision to increase the Climate Change Levy in line with inflation is a small step in the right direction. However, it will not deliver climate change benefits as its economic impact will remain neutral. It would have been better if the Chancellor had increased this measure, not effectively kept it at a standstill.

• Friends of the Earth welcomed the modest assistance that will be provided to home owners in increasing energy efficiency through improved insulation. A pilot scheme to trial ‘smart’ meters could also be positive if it leads to new measures to encourage reduced energy demand from consumers.

• A voluntary labelling scheme for some energy using products that have a standby setting might help to raise consumer awareness. But this should be backed by legislation to reduce energy wastage from all such goods.

• The establishment of a new national energy technology institute could make some future positive impact but many of the technologies that already exist and that could make a contribution to tackling climate change, are not being sufficiently supported by government policies.

• The commitment of new money to help kick start markets for micro-generation technologies, such as small wind turbines and solar water heating equipment, is very welcome but needs to be backed by strong policies, including through the conclusions of the energy review. Friends of the Earth said that the Chancellor needed to get more serious about climate change before it was too late.

The forthcoming decision on Britain’s contribution to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the outcome of the on-going Climate Change Programme Review, were opportunities for him to prove that he is prepared to take the decisions that will get the Government back on track to delivering promises made to the electorate at the last three General Elections. Details of Friends of the Earth’s call for a green Budget can be seen at: