LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) Britain held out the possibility today of deeper reductions to its carbon emissions than the 60 percent cut by 2050 it has already announced, saying it would seek the advice of a new watchdog on whether to go further.
The British government announced a draft climate change bill in March that would aim to cut emissions from 1990 levels by at least 26 per cent by 2020 and by 60 per cent by 2050.
Campaigners have said the government should have gone further and promised to cut emissions by 80 percent.
Announcing changes to the draft bill, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the government would ask a new Climate Change Committee to report by late 2009 on whether the proposed cuts ''should be deeper still''.
Two protesters dressed as polar bears and holding signs calling for 80 per cent cuts greeted Benn when he gave a speech today at the Royal Gardens at Kew, near London.
''Have you got any good news for us?'' one of the protestors asked the minister.
''We're going to ask the Climate Change Committee to review whether 60 per cent is enough,'' Benn replied.
The watchdog committee, which will be set up under the new bill, will also report on whether Britain's targets should cover international aviation and shipping, which are not presently covered in the draft.
Other changes include allowing the committee to appoint its own chief executive and staff, and requiring the government to consult it before altering the headline 2020 and 2050 targets.
Campaign group Friends of the Earth said the proposed changes meant the government ''is getting ever closer to introducing a truly groundbreaking piece of legislation.
''However the bill needs to be beefed up if it is going to deliver the cuts which science tells us are needed,'' the group's Director Tony Jupiter said in a statement.
It criticised the government for putting off the decisions on whether the cuts would go deeper or include aviation and shipping, saying the delay meant Britain would have already set targets for the next 15 years before deciding the ultimate goal.
In his speech, Benn said last winter was the warmest in Britain since records began in 1772, and that action to prevent global warming was vital for Britain's economy.
In a report issued the same day, parliament's Environmental Audit Committee said the government's climate change rhetoric was not being reflected in its actions, and noted that it was likely to miss its own target of cutting national carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010.
''The way the government has addressed climate change has led to a confusing framework that doesn't promote effective action to cut emissions,'' said Tim Yeo, chairman of the all-party committee.
The committee also called for a cabinet-level minister to be responsible for climate change, but Benn dismissed this, telling Reuters that was already his job.
REUTERS GT BD2313