Andrew Murray-Watson: Blair must take Stern measures as the world heats up

We could always tax the super-rich oil giants to fund a green revolution
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The Independent Online

The Stern Report due out tomorrow should leave Tony Blair's Government in little doubt that action to tackle climate change has to be undertaken now.

The choice before this country is simple: pay billions to develop sources of green energy and other environmental technologies today, or pay tens of billions a few decades down the line when the climate-change problem will be much worse.

Blair has made a great song and dance about Britain having the opportunity to be a global leader in environmental technology, without doing anything to make his vision a reality.

The sums this Government put into developing green technology are pathetic and pale into insignificance when compared with the investments already made by the likes of the US and even the great polluter China.

Don't be fooled by government boasts that the UK has surpassed its Kyoto treaty targets. A switch by electricity generators to gas from coal and the decline in heavy manufacturing would have seen the UK hit its targets without any government action at all.

And with Gordon Brown wooing the City with vague promises of cutting red tape and reducing the regulatory burden on business, it looks unlikely that companies will be asked to cough up for a green revolution.

Stern is likely to leave the Government ample wriggle-room to avoid concrete commitments to fighting climate change by highlighting the fact that the UK is only responsible for 2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions and so can do little to reduce global levels. I doubt he will mention the uncomfortable fact that FTSE 100 companies, with interests worldwide, are responsible for up to 15 per cent of global emissions and are ideally placed to make a real difference.

Anyway, amid the wringing of hands in Westminster and the Square Mile, there seems little chance of real financial commitment to ensuring a green revolution in England's increasingly un-green and pleasant land.

But the solution to how to fund the creation of a "green economy" is staring Blair and Brown in the face. Oil giants Shell and BP have made a combined profit for the last three months of $31.6bn (£16.7bn) - that's over $120bn a year, or $300m per day.

However, the notion that prime minister-in-waiting Brown will impose a "windfall tax" on big oil can be instantly dismissed. He will not dare to create a stink in the City at this stage of his slippery crawl into No 10. It is a pity, as he could easily paint himself as a green Robin Hood, taking from the oil barons to give to the environmentally needy.

There is a great natural justice in funding the development of environmental technologies with the vast profits of oil companies. The City may kick up a storm, but it will be nothing in comparison with the hurricane of environmental destruction that awaits us if we all sit on our hands.

SMG and Fidelity

Has Fidelity's Anthony Bolton, the "silent assassin" of the fund management industry, lost his touch?

The plucky board of SMG, led by Chris Masters, has faced down Fidelity and its attempt to force the Scottish company to appoint a chairman of the fund manager's choosing. Glasgow-based SMG has already bowed to shareholder pressure and agreed to sell its outdoor and cinema advertising divisions and clearly thought enough was enough.

Any plc has a duty to listen to its investors, but only up to a point. No fund manager has a divine right to impose its will on the board of a company, and Fidelity's boys were sent packing from Scotland faster than Edward II's army.

Fidelity may see itself as the shining white knight slaying the dragon of bad corporate governance, but it is in danger of looking like a bully. In contrast, SMG's non-executive directors, who have presided over a significant destruction of shareholder value at the media company, now look like valiant underdogs.

It is not a situation that is likely to last.

a.murray-watson@independent.co.uk

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