Michael McCarthy: Huhne's departure will sadden all who care about the environment

His brilliant brain was never put to better use than when he saved the day at the Cancun talks

Share
Related Topics

With the enforced departure of Chris Huhne the environment in Britain has lost its most intelligent and powerful defender. In his 20 months at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the MP for Eastleigh has shown not only a masterful grasp of policy, but a willingness to fight his corner in the Cabinet for the green causes he has long championed.

In particular he has stood up to the Chancellor, George Osborne, and to Mr Osborne's intensifying attack on environmental concerns as an irrelevant side issue which only harms economic growth.

After the Chancellor's discourse to last October's Conservative conference, in which he roused the party faithful by crying "We're not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business!", Mr Huhne responded by echoing Mr Osborne's own words back to him, asserting: "We are not going to save our economy by turning our back on renewable energy."

It did not make him popular with his Tory cabinet colleagues – indeed, it made him hated by some, who will privately cheer his fall – but it did reassure all who care about the environment that their concerns were being upheld at the highest level.

Strange that it should be Mr Huhne taking this role, a former financier and financial journalist (he was once City editor of The Independent) who, let it be said, is a rich man with a portfolio of properties, but who could have devoted his whole life to money making and raked in millions.

He could have bought a flash country estate and taken up huntin', shootin' and fishin' like many an upwardly mobile hedge-fund boss of his generation. Instead, after a visit to Africa, he conceived a passion for environmental and developmental causes and went into politics full time for the Liberal Democrats.

His rise has been helped by what even his enemies acknowledge is a brilliant brain. "You should see him in negotiations with the Treasury," a Tory colleague once murmured in admiration. "But then, he was a ratings analyst."

This intellectual agility was never put to better use than at the Cancun climate conference in December 2010, when the laboriously constructed negotiating process appeared to be in ruins after the disastrous Copenhagen talks of the previous year.

Cancun was meant to repair the process so that the world could continue to grapple with the global-warming threat, but it too appeared to be heading for deadlock over the current emissions-cutting treaty, the Kyoto protocol: South American countries insisted on renewal, but the Japanese said Never.

Mr Huhne was put in charge of a committee to try to bridge the divide, which he proceeded to do by producing a text of such subtlety that even the opposing sides felt able to agree to it, and the process was saved.

It might seem an obscure victory – but it was a crucial one for the future. There is no doubt that Mr Huhne, as was said of Othello, hath done the state some service. He has been a genuine big beast in the political jungle, and to see him brought low is very sad. His departure is also a very great loss to anyone who cares about the environment and the green economy – especially in an administration which proclaimed it would be the greenest government ever, but which looks a paler shade of green with every day that passes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Full Stack Software Developer

£35k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Developer

£50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Front End Developer

£50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
 

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game