Action, not more hot air

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The Independent Online

As hurricane after hurricane slams through the Caribbean, the British political weather seems to be changing. In an unprecedented move, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are to make speeches on successive days - tomorrow and Tuesday - attempting to outbid one another in their commitment to tackle global warming. Both have earned the right to be heard.

As hurricane after hurricane slams through the Caribbean, the British political weather seems to be changing. In an unprecedented move, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are to make speeches on successive days - tomorrow and Tuesday - attempting to outbid one another in their commitment to tackle global warming. Both have earned the right to be heard.

Tony Blair nailed his colours to this mast in the first weeks of his premiership, highlighting the issue at the 1997 Denver G8 summit and convincing President Clinton to take it seriously. He and John Prescott played important roles in formulating the Kyoto Protocol - and much of the world, rightly, sees him as the leader best placed to get international negotiations back on track.

Perhaps surprisingly, Michael Howard's record is even better. In 1992, during a brief spell as Secretary of State for the Environment he put together the original, albeit weak, international treaty on combating climate change, succeeding where Tony Blair has so far failed - in getting a President Bush to join in. Britain's undoubted progress in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions came under the Conservatives; they have increased since Labour came to power.

Although Mr Howard should and will put Mr Blair on the spot, it is the Prime Minister who can and must act. His first task must be to bring the Kyoto Protocol into force, by ensuring that President Putin lives up to his undertaking to the European Union in May to ratify it. He should ensure that Peter Mandelson sticks to that job, the new trade commissioner's predecessor, Pascal Lamy, having played the crucial role in securing the undertaking. Next he should ensure that Britain meets its 1997 manifesto commitment to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2010, through the very measures that Mr Howard will call for tomorrow - an energy-saving drive and a rapid expansion of renewable sources.

This, however, will not be enough. Increasing scientific evidence suggests that the world will have to agree on tougher action, and soon. A useful first step would be to use a clause in the treaty Mr Howard negotiated to convene a meeting of leading industrialised and developing countries to review progress on tackling global warming. This could set a limit - another two degrees centigrade is seen as the danger level - beyond which the world will not be allowed to warm further, and work back from there to the concrete measures needed to achieve it.

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