Global doom? Surely not in Chiantishire

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Eating dinner in the garden in the balmy dusk of an October evening last week made me feel like a latter-day Dr Strangelove. Maybe it was time to stop worrying and learn to love global warming.

After all, has not John Mortimer hailed the impending climatic change as "absolutely splendid news", denouncing warnings by the former Environment Secretary, John Gummer, as proof that Mr Gummer equates the prospect of the Home Counties becoming "as warm as Bordeaux" with "receiving a communion wafer from a woman".

So it seemed bad-mannered of 1,500 of the world's top scientists - including 104 of the 138 living Nobel prizewinners - to inject a little reality by writing to President Clinton to warn of its "potentially devastating consequences".

At home, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, warned that Britain's weather would "become more extreme and more variable; more heatwaves, more floods, more droughts". And he backed growing fears, often reported in these columns, that global warming may "turn off" the Gulf Stream, making Northern Europe as cold as Labrador. That might chill even Mr Mortimer's bones.

Anyway, this long-ignored issue is now rising up the political agenda as fast as hot air in a party conference hall. Robin Cook - who describes Mr Mortimer's musings as "fatuous" - has made climate change a top priority, and Tony Blair, in his conference speech, proclaimed his "passionate commitment" to combating it.

They helped persuade a sceptical Mr Clinton, who read two books on the subject during his summer holidays, and said privately two weeks ago that it "dwarfs every other environmental problem". He feared "we have already done things that will throw the planet out of kilter 50 years from now". Even energy producers, part of the cause of the crisis, are joining in. Last Tuesday, John Browne, the chief executive of BP, said: "It is clear that climate change is a serious problem which merits precautionary action now." And John Baker - who as chairman of National Power is responsible for emitting more of the gas than anyone else in the country - also called for urgent action. No doubt there is more rejoicing in the stratosphere over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine self-righteous greenies.

o ALL THIS is building up to make-or-break negotations on cutting emissions in Kyoto, Japan, in December. The main "fly in the ointment", in Mr Clinton's private words, is the US Senate - a body so internationalist that one- third of its members do not even have passports. The administration puts the chances of it ratifying any Kyoto agreement at "zero".

Tomorrow Mr Clinton holds a special conference (and last week gathered 100 weather anchor men and women - local heroes in the US - on the White House lawn) to try to appeal to the public over the heads of their representatives.

There are some signs of success. Three-quarters of Americans now see global warming as a threat, but industry is spending more than $10m(pounds 6.2m) on a campaign to try to change their minds.

Meanwhile, our government appears in some disarray.It has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 - one of the world's most ambitious targets. But its not clear whether this is conditional on other countries doing the same. Mr Blair told Parliament this summer that it isn't: the Energy minister, John Battle, now says it is.

I attempted to clarify this with a minister in Brighton last week. He spoke of "sacrifices" in cleaning up, but when reminded that studies accepted by the Government showed that the anti-pollution measures would create scores of thousands more jobs than they lost, he quickly backpedalled.

While there, I was a handed a leaflet headed: "Let down by Labour - the innocent animal." As it was the day after the NEC vote, I naturally assumed it came from a Mandelson support group. But no. It was produced by a body I had never heard of - The People's Campaign Against Animal Suffering - and, like Mr Blair, it is warning against Labour complacency.

"In much the same way that the Royal Family chose to ignore the wishes of the people and came to regret it," it says, "if the 'New Labour' government ignores the wishes of countless thousands of enlightened voters, who voted for them solely on their animal welfare ticket, they too may come to regret their snub."

So that explains it. It was Peter Rabbit, not Mandelson, wot won it.