Last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the science of climate change ended the need for any debate about its reality. Today’s report ends any debate about the need for urgent action on climate change – both mitigation and adaptation to its effects.
This should mark an end to a period of global drift, inaction and backsliding on action to cut carbon emissions that might be dated back to the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. Friends of the Earth says, rightly, it’s time to get angry about the failures. They are many, and global, but what I want to address here is UK politics, its past and future, what people and parties have said - and what they’ve done.
A good starting point is the Climate Change Act 2008. It was a pretty good piece of legislation, with wide cross-party support. It was a framework for action. But since then, we’ve seen the action stall, and all too often go backwards, and the rhetoric, the standard of public debate in Britain, fall off a cliff.
It’s worth noting that while this is a situation reflected in the United States, Canada and Australia, the nature of the debate at least in much of the rest of the world has been very different. In countries where political coverage is not heavily-dominated by right wing media tycoons and oil industry-funded “think tanks”, there’s been general acceptance of the reality of climate change, and perfectly reasonable debate about the best policy responses to it.
Only in the Anglosphere have we seen such a trend, a fact surely not unconnected with the rise of aggressively climate sceptic Ukip in the UK (and the dreadful Tony Abbott in Australia). Last week I had a carefully typed letter from a genuine member of the public (not a ‘troll’), asking me why I scoffed at a Christopher Brooker’s article in the Sunday Telegraph. People whose news sources are such newspapers, and television, are presented with this scientific gobbledegook as though it were of equal value to carefully scrutinised and peer-reviewed work of thousands of actual scientists. They believe them – or at least they are confused.
We might have expected more sense from the BBC, but there are some senior, dominant on-air figures whose personal views have been allowed to run riot, and since 2010, the institution has been visibly running scared of the right wing government and the future of its licence fee.
The Green Party’s Finance Spokesperson Molly Scott Cato put the point very well on Twitter this morning: “Esp 4 journalists, this is morning for deciding which side you are on, that of your grandchildren or the one your bread is buttered on”.
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continuous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters because of rampant deforestation. US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it 'the world's largest weapon of mass destruction'
An excavator clearing a peatland forest area for a palm oil plantations in Trumon subdistrict, Aceh province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. As Southeast Asia's largest economy grows rapidly, swathes of biodiverse forests across the archipelago of 17,000 islands have been cleared to make way for paper and palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and agriculture. The destruction has ravaged biodiversity, placing animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers in danger of extinction, while also leading to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide
Stagnant rain water with tannery waste make the Hazaribagh area in Old Dhaka as well as Buriganga River the most polluted. Each year during the seven-month long dry season between October and April the Buriganga River becomes totally stagnant with its upstream region drying up and becoming polluted from toxic waste from city industries
Waste water from Dhaka city drained to the River Buriganga contributes to its pollutions. On the World Water Day observed in 2007 under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity, under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, DrikNEWS explores some of the images of the river. UN-Water has identified coping with water scarcity as part of the strategic issues and priorities requiring joint UN action. The theme highlights the significance of cooperation and importance of an integrated approach to water resource management of water at international, national and local levels
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
Since 2010, in government policy action, where we haven’t seen inaction, we’ve seen wrong action. There were the two fiascos over the solar feed-in tariff; a new low with the leak of David Cameron’s “green crap” (“crap” including measures to insulate the homes of the poor and vulnerable and help them pay their taxes – the rate of the first of these having since been slashed); the Green Deal – an “energy policy” designed by the finance industry for the finance industry; the plan to build lots of new roads (the ones dismissed as “zombie” projects in the Eighties), and the pursuit of the high-energy, low-sense High Speed 2 rail line.
And then there was fracking – the point at which government energy policy descended into dangerous fantasy. We had a Lib Dem Energy Secretary – the same one who’s now standing up today saying he wants action on climate change – saying “I love shale gas” not once, but twice, in case anyone missed it the first time. There’s PM David Cameron insisting that British shale gas would cut energy prices, even though the frackers themselves deny it, and only this month claiming that production would start by the end of the year, when the industry themselves says in five years they’ll know if there’s the possibility of an industry.
In February – after the floods, Cameron had to issue a statement saying he believed in climate change, so strong had the doubts about his views become. The same week Chancellor George Osborne was forced to also reassure us that he did believe in the science – although he quickly added that he only wanted to do cheap things to tackle the problem.
And Labour? Well Labour are apparently in favour of fracking (although in affected areas there are reports of quite different local claims), in favour of HS2, yet to offer any opposition to road-building that I’ve seen, and aren’t backing programmes such as the Energy Bill Revolution (that could create jobs, almost end fuel poverty and cut emissions). In fact, they are offering little more than hot air.
The three largest parties have comprehensively failed to stand up for the facts, for the science, for the reality on climate change. They’ve offered only weasel words, and disastrous deeds.
Our future, the future of our children and grandchildren, demands a lot more. I can give you many reasons to vote Green on May 22, for the European and council elections, and in the 2015 general election. But even on its own, the promise of real, effective action that would not only slash carbon emissions but create jobs and build the wellbeing of all, but particularly our poorest, is, I believe, an overwhelming reason.