Caspar Henderson: 'Britain talks a good game, but tries to lower its Kyoto targets'

From a speech by the Globalisation Editor of the on-line discussion forum openDemocracy, given to the British Council in London

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Tony Blair has put action on climate top of the agenda for the leaders of the G7 richest industrial countries plus Russia when they meet in Scotland in July, and has pledged to make it central to Britain's forthcoming presidency of the European Union, the world's biggest trading bloc. The other political parties in Britain say they are even more serious about climate change than Labour!

Tony Blair has put action on climate top of the agenda for the leaders of the G7 richest industrial countries plus Russia when they meet in Scotland in July, and has pledged to make it central to Britain's forthcoming presidency of the European Union, the world's biggest trading bloc. The other political parties in Britain say they are even more serious about climate change than Labour!

But what does all this professed seriousness really mean? Britain, for example, talks a good game, but is in a mighty row with the European Commission because it wants to weaken its obligation under the Kyoto targets. Energy and transport policy in this country are a mess. Our carbon emissions rose by 1.5 per cent last year. The three big political parties all duck difficult questions like whether or not there's a role for nuclear power.

But there are signs of hope too, among what I call High Tech types. That is to say scientists, technologists and others who "get" it. This list may extend as far as John Brown, chairman of the oil company BP.

BP did its own internal version of Kyoto - the small first step in cutting emissions. The company found that it was able to reach its initial target of reducing emissions 10 per cent below 1990 levels in four years and add $650m in stake- holder value in the process. "The overwhelming message," said Lord Brown "is that efficiency can both pay dividends and reduce emissions."

As Lord Brown also knows, US consumers cannot get hold of Toyota's fuel-efficient hybrid car, the Prius, fast enough. By 2004, Toyota's market capitalisation exceeded the big three indigenous American car makers combined. According to the high-tech guru Amory Lovins, if all cars in the United States today were Priuses, they would save 15 per cent more oil than the US got from the Gulf in 2002.

So there are signs of gloom and signs of hope. What should one make of this? The apparent polarity can be imprisoning. Extremes create a sense of powerlessness that can in turn lead to cynicism.

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