Gordon Brown signals end for plastic bags

Posted: 19 November 2007

There has been a chorus of approval for the statement today by the British prime minister Gordon Brown that the UK govenment is considering further reducing Britain's carbon emissions' target and cutting the use of disposable plastic bags.

Cotton shopping bag
Cotton shopping bag
Cotton shopping bag. Credit Bishopston Trading Company
In his first major speech on the environment since taking office as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said Britain must lead the world in becoming a low carbon economy, an aim that could mean reducing the UK's carbon emissions from 60 per cent (as set out in the draft carbon bill) to 80 per cent by 2050.

This would mean "no less than a fourth technological revolution," he said. The added value of the resulting low carbon energy sector globally could be £3 trillion per year by 2050, he said.

It meant that over a million people in Britain could be employed in environmental industries within the next 20 years.

Turning to the problem of disposable plastic bags he said he was convinced "that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether in favour of long-lasting and more sustainable alternatives." He said the Government would convene a forum of supermarkets to discuss how that could be done.

Encouraging news

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said: "Gordon Brown's speech is extremely encouraging. But, if green speeches by our political leaders were enough, climate change would have been solved many years ago. We genuinely hope that at long last, the Government will show real urgency and put combating global warming at the heart of all its policies. This means fundamentally rethinking strategies on roads, airports, power stations and housing, and strengthening its climate change bill."

Commenting on plans to increase renewable energy, he said: "After a summer of lobbying, wriggling, and confusion, the Government's apparent change of heart on renewable power is fantastic news, but will only be credible if new policies emerge to actually meet targets. Britain lags a long way behind most of our European neighbours on renewable power, despite having the greatest wind, wave and tidal resource in Europe. We should be able to contribute our fair share of the EU-wide renewable energy commitment and source at least 20 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2020."

Polar bears threatened
Polar bears threatened
The consequences of the melting of the ice cap will have an impact on people living all over the world - not just on polar bears and Arctic foxes. Photo credit Pen Hadow
David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, said: "This marks a big shift in the right direction from where the Government was 12 monthsago. The next six months will be vital and we look forward to holding the Government to account on its promises."

"The Prime Minister has made an unequivocal commitment to ensuring the UK plays its part in keeping the rise in global temperatures to nomore than two degrees C - which is essential if we are to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. However, to achieve this, the UKmust put in place a Climate Change Bill which cuts emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 from the outset. Emissions from internationalaviation and shipping must also be included in the Bill if this sector is to play an equal share in tackling climate change."

Plastic bags

Sue Kinsey Adopt-a-Beach officer for the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said: "We welcome the recognition of the problems that plastic bags can cause to the environment. This is an issue we have campaigned on for many years and last year we gave evidence on the effects of plastic bags to the Scottish Parliament"

The damage caused by plastics, and plastics bags in particular in the marine environment is immense. Plastic bags are a hazardous form of litter as they can be mistaken for food, and have been found in the stomachs of many marine animals including endangered species such as leatherback turtles, harbour porpoises and black-footed albatross. Ingestion of plastic bags can result in blockages, internal infections, starvation and death. A minke whale, washed ashore in Normandy in 2002 had 800g of plastic in its gut including several recognisable UK plastic shopping bags.

During the last MCS Beachwatch litter survey in 2006 plastics accounted for 55 per cent of all litter and 7,476 plastic bags were found giving an average density of 39.9 plastic bags/km surveyed.

There was praise too from Britain's leading Arctic environmentalist and explorer Pen Hadow. "Nine out of ten, to Gordon Brown for talking the talk - but now is the time to walk the walk," he said.

"It has taken world leaders far too long to acknowledge that time really is running out - despite the accumulating evidence including the imminent disappearance of the Arctic ice cap.

"The IPCC report has shown that climate change is 'unequivocal' and nowhere is the evidence more stark, than in the Arctic Ocean. It is in crisis and the consequences of the melting of the ice cap will have an impact on people living all over the world - not just on polar bears and Arctic foxes.

"It's to be hoped that all governments will go at least as far as Gordon Brown has today in tackling climate change by reducing emissions. The UN meeting in Indonesia next month will be a golden opportunity for leaders to show their commitment to halting the disastrous impact of global warming.

"Next year, I will deliver to world scientists a definitive survey of the thickness of the Arctic ice cap which will determine how long there will be a permanent ice cap at the North Pole and help prepare world leaders for the momentous global consequences of ice cap meltdown."