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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world