Climate Change Action Now, 12th May 2007
Jean Lambert MEP
‘With the threat of climate change, people want to know what all of us – individuals, businesses and government here and in Europe – can do to safeguard our environment for our children.’ (Gordon Brown 11.5.2007)
This was Gordon Brown speaking yesterday as he set out his stall for the Labour leadership. This weekend’s conference will help to spell out many possible actions.
But the issue is also global – and that is a major challenge. To tackle climate change – even to restrain a rise in temperature to an average 2 degrees above pre-industrialised levels – requires concerted international action. (EP says 60-80% reduction by 2050) Unlike war, it requires only one side, not two: one set of alliances in our common interest. It requires long-term thinking – we really are thinking in terms of future generations. It challenges politicians to redefine the national interest – to go beyond old ideas of “sound currency and defence of the realm” and to think across borders. Many of the solutions, however, rest with countries making much more efficient use of their own energy sources and a more localised approach to meet a global problem.
As Margaret Becket put it when speaking in the Un Security Council Debate on Climate Change (requested by the UK ): This is about our collective security in a fragile and increasingly interdependent world.
Desmond Tutu has identified climate change as a factor in the Darfur conflict. Uganda’s President Museveni has called climate change an act of aggression against the poor.
We should not underestimate the nature of this challenge, especially for countries used to the politics of confrontation and automatic opposition and to see-saw politics.
However critical we may be of the Kyoto process, EU and national climate change strategies, the fact that they even exist is testimony to the political vision of some and sound scientific research used effectively by bloody-minded individuals like Phil Thornhill, civil society and civil servants! Change is already happening and we need to hang on to that when every new report from the IPCC, for example, seems to overwhelm us.
We can see the serious recognition of the implications of climate change gathering pace and should welcome this. I think we also need to be careful not to kill the messengers for not being “green” enough but to keep our eyes on the real problems – the dirty industries that don’t want to change and the politicians and financial institutions that support them; containing or replacing major sources of greenhouse gases and finding solutions that will not stop the sustainable development of the world’s poorest countries or leave a huge environmental burden for future generations – such as will happen with nuclear waste. The Millenium Goals will not be met unless we tackle climate change.
The Government is currently consulting on the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations 2007. (closes 17th May) Bio-fuels have a role but it cannot be at the expense of biodiversity and the destruction of forests which, if managed sustainably could provide livelihoods for more people than cash-crop monoculture for palm and other fuel oil. 80% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation and that also causes a major percentage of Indonesia’s emissions (currently higher than those of India). For Greens, food production must take priority over mobility and there is a role for legislation to ensure that and to set standards concerning sourcing from fully sustainable origins.
That is why contraction and convergence is such an important concept – it challenges the global status quo and promotes greater equality between countries. We need international organisations, such as the World Bank and WTO to adopt the same philosophy!
Responsible government has a crucial role to play. The market is not the solution: market mechanisms have a role in today’s world but they are not a solution in themselves. Individual action is important and is helping to drive government and business towards more sustainable, low carbon solutions, but governments set the rules. It is the job of government to make it easy for people to do the right thing.
That is why it is crucial that governments provide clear, consistent policies. The Climate Change Bill will help provide such a framework here. It will ensure that there is a focus for both monitoring progress and public accountability through regular reporting to Parliament. That legislation has to be as tough as possible: the science requires it and the public demands it.
Coherent and consistent action also means an end to stop-go funding: our next Prime Minister must call the Treasury to account on this! You can’t expect to develop new industries and markets in, for example, the domestic sector with a grants policy where the money runs out in 45 minutes (we seem to have heard the timespan somewhere else!) once a month; then you stop the scheme and reintroduce it with greatly reduced grant levels only to find you have killed off young businesses and the enthusiasm of individuals to make a difference.
Easy access to an updated grid and access to ROCs (Renewables Obligation Certificate) is also essential for newcomers to the market, whether they are individual households, small organisations (such as churches) or businesses. Germany (under a red-green government) established a clear pricing policy for renewables in order to encourage early entry to the market. Our Government should learn from that and require utility companies to supply two-way metering on request.
We also need a clear programme to deal with insulation of homes. Local authorities are crucial in this. It could be an easy and rapid win in terms of reducing emissions. London’s emissions from homes are higher than from transport. The Government will be setting the levels for the 3rd round of Energy Efficiency Commitment later this year – it should be at least 100% greater than EEC2: this needs to be ambitious because it’s necessary, helps to combat fuel poverty (which has doubled since 2003) and provides work at a variety of skill levels (estimated 500k jobs across 30 years in the EU). We should also be bringing the Warm Homes and Decent Homes standards in to line – we might look to Wales for a lead on standards themselves.
The expansion of the air industry is something else we need to tackle and this is a crucial year in the UK. Autumn will see the consultation on the proposed 3rd runway at Heathrow and a public enquiry possibly the following year. In winter this year, BAA is expected to move towards a public enquiry into the proposed 2nd runway at Stansted. These developments are not compatible with the Government’s own climate change strategy. They do NOT represent coherent thinking, to put it mildly.
We are also due to have the Government’s Energy White Paper with us at any moment. We are told there is a strong difference of opinion between Darling and Milliband delaying its publication. It must have a strong commitment to reducing energy demand, increasing energy efficiency, strong and rapid investment in renewables at both the micro and macro generation levels and no place for a nuclear future. How can I tell Iran it should not develop nuclear power if the UK is going to invest in new stations – knowing the risks from proliferation, terrorism, toxic waste. Where will we site them – on the coast, on a flood plain?
The importance of the international dimension cannot be underestimated. The best way to bring other governments on board, which is essential if we are to have the strongest possible follow-on from the Kyoto Protocol, is to lead by example and no double standards. We are looking at a major cultural shift within the next ten years – we can have a cleaner, greener, more equitable world that is fit for future generations. This conference, the international day of action on December 8th and what we do either side of that will help achieve that.