Leading article: A revolution in attitudes


The Government's review of its climate change programme was as limp as we feared. Though the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, defiantly announced that the Government would not abandon its target of cutting carbon emissions 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010, she was also forced to admit that she has no idea how this ambition will be fulfilled.

It seems that the Department of Trade and Industry prevailed in its battle with the Department for the Environment. Any radical proposals for curbing the UK's CO 2 output discussed in the course of this review, such as the statutory capping of industry's emissions, were rejected. The fact that it took 18 months to come up with yesterday's weak statement of intent does not bode well. Control of this agenda is slipping from the Government's grasp. All its tinkering so far has failed to make much of a difference. We are failing to hit our targets and will continue to fail unless there is a radical change in direction.

The belief that top-down action by governments can achieve the necessary breakthrough in carbon emission reductions now looks like a vain hope. It is increasingly clear that Britain will only begin to make serious headway when there is a revolution in attitudes to our society's consumption of energy. The change must come from below. Only when a seismic shift in opinion has taken place will a political consensus emerge. Otherwise political parties will never be free of the temptation to appeal to the section of the electorate that would prefer "business as usual".

This is a revolution that must take place not just in Britain. If we are to stall the disastrous process of global warming, all developed and developing nations must examine the way they use energy. This is where you - our readers - come in. We have already had a formidable response to our national debate on climate change, launched yesterday. In just one day we received hundreds of responses. These have included practical suggestions ranging from the relatively mild (encouraging home builders to put solar panels on the roofs of all new houses) to the hard-line (enforcing wartime-era energy rationing).

Your submissions also indicate a growing acceptance that sacrifices will be needed. The idea that short-term economic growth may have to give way to tough measures to preserve our environment and way of life for the long term appears to be gaining ground. Many of you accept that there may need to be curbs on our individual liberty to consume energy.

This is uncharted territory - both for politics and our planet. But it is a debate that cannot be delayed. Thank goodness it is finally taking place.

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