Leading article: The green giant awakes

Share

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Move from Audit to Advisory

£45000 per annum + benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Move from Audit to Advisor...

Management Consultancy - Operational Research Analysts

£35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...

Secondary Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This outstanding Secondary School...

Application Support Analyst (MS SQL, java based webserver, batch scripting)

£36000 - £40000 Per Annum On call allowance.: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: Britain's sexism

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back

Nigel Farage
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?