Leading article: The green giant awakes


Robin Cook used to call the environment "the sleeping giant of British politics". Perhaps last week was the one in which the lethargic leviathan woke up. On successive days, both likely next prime ministers - David Cameron and Gordon Brown - delivered long and meaty speeches putting global warming at the top of their agendas. Mr Cameron visited the Arctic Circle to see it happening for himself, accompanied by his environment spokesman, Greg Barker - who, as we report today, first sold his Porsche, presumably better to travel by eco-friendly dog-sled. And Mr Brown dutifully picked up the message of our leading article last week by declaring that tackling the climate change is a "moral duty".

If the giant is indeed stirring, it is Mr Cameron who has poked him in the eye. Whether out of conviction or, more likely, because Mr Cameron has spotted an electoral opportunity, he has made the environment his trademark since winning his party's leadership. Last week, before heading north, he launched the final stage of his local government campaign under the slogan "Vote Blue, Go Green". On his way back, he delivered a thoughtful speech on climate change in Oslo which should help lay to rest the charge that his approach is all spin and no substance. He backed the Kyoto Protocol - in contrast to Tony Blair's wobbling - and laid out concrete policies for the future.

Mr Brown appears to be playing catch-up. That impression is not entirely fair: stimulated by the horrific impact that the climate change will have on the world's poor, the Chancellor was exhibiting increasing interest long before Mr Cameron. But it was not until the end of last week that he nailed his new green colours to the recycled wood mast. He did so in the US, complete with an implied rebuke to President Bush - something that, despite much urging, the Prime Minister has failed to deliver. Yet going on to Washington, he also extolled the importance of increasing production of the very oil that is fuelling the looming climate catastrophe.

So now the giant is awake, what should he deliver? Mr Cameron is right that green taxes are an important part of the solution. They make economic, as well as environmental sense. Shifting the burden of tax from "goods" such as employment to "bads" such as pollution, would increase employment as well as combat climate change. Mr Brown agrees, and indeed promised to boost them before taking office - but under his stewardship they have actually decreased. He did introduce the climate change levy on industry - and got small thanks for it from environmentalists while being denounced by those affected. But, scandalously, he scrapped automatic increases in petrol prices in the face of the fuel price protests in 2000 (again green groups got it wrong by bottling out of making the case for the tax when it was under assault).

So Mr Brown must finally put the taxpayers' money where his mouth was. He should also back tough caps on pollution from British industry under the EU emissions trading scheme, which allows countries to buy and sell permits to pollute within set limits and which he vigorously backed in his speech. And both he and Mr Cameron face an early test over nuclear power. The atom, as repeated studies are showing, is more likely to hinder than help the fight against climate change by stifling renewable alternatives. There are signs that Mr Cameron is prepared to abandon his party's long commitment to it (although Zac Goldsmith - his once fiercely anti-nuclear adviser - seems to be travelling in the other direction). Mr Brown is also sceptical. Between them they could stop Britain from heading down this dangerous blind alley. Then we would know the green giant is truly awake.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: MS Dynamics AX Developer (SSRS/ SSAS) - global business

£425 per day: Ashdown Group: A small business with an established global offer...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Growing Law firm

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable law firm based in central London ...

Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

£30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British female troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan  

There are simply no good reasons why women should not be allowed to serve on the front line

James Wharton

Now they’re using Game of Thrones to sell Shakespeare. And there’s nothing wrong with that

David Lister
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas