The following week, environmentalists got their wish as European energy ministers gave “cautious backing” for an EU energy policy built partly on “environmental sustainability”.

Friends of the Earth launched High Court proceedings against the UK chancellor in February over the decision to scrap the UK’s Operating and Financial Review, which requires companies to report on the environmental and social impact of their business. Mr Brown had hoped to win credit with big business by reducing regulations, but was wrongfooted by the charity, which revealed his presidential-style decision-making and produced documents showing he had ignored calls for a wider consultation on deregulation. Treasury solicitors reached an out-of-court settlement on the judicial challenge, and agreed to pay Friends of the Earth’s legal costs and issue a new consultation.

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Along with more than 130 other charities, Friends of the Earth is campaigning to ensure the UK’s Company Law Reform Bill contains suitable provision for transparent reporting on social and environmental issues.

Meanwhile, demonstrations surrounding the March 23 and 24 energy summit in Brussels also seem to have made an impact. Europe’s energy ministers have asked the European Commission to produce an “ambitious” but “realistic” plan for energy efficiency by the end of 2006. At the summit, they also endorsed the development of a long-term strategy for renewable energies.

Friends of the Earth said ministers have given few indications on objectives or targets but welcomed the reaffirmation of their wish to see the EU’s Biomass Action Plan (which calls for the share of renewable energy sources to double from 5.4% in 1997 to 12% in 2010) swiftly implemented.

But the environmental group is concerned that the EU-wide energy policy leans towards what it calls “dirty fossil fuels” and “dangerous nukes”.

Jan Kowalzig, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said common sense dictated that the EU’s top priority should be cutting energy waste and massively investing in renewable energies such as solar and wind power to ensure a long-term sustainable energy supply.