Leading article: The people's warning... we need urgent action on climate change

Grass-roots pressure pushed this issue up the agenda. And it will be grass-roots pressure that keeps it there

Share

This was a week in which we saw more clearly than ever the damage our way of life is doing to the planet. Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the economic impact of climate change revolutionised the debate about global warming. We now know that the cost of not acting to tackle climate change could by the end of the century be 20 times the cost of carrying on as we are. It is no longer a question of whether we can afford to reduce our emissions. The fact is that we cannot afford not to.

A report on the future of global fish stocks by an international team of scientists was just as blunt. It revealed that stocks could collapse entirely within 50 years if commercial fishing is not curbed. This was a Stern report for the seas. Indeed the two areas - climate change and the state of the oceans - are linked. One of the reasons why fish stocks are thought to be under pressure is rising sea temperatures. And in both cases, vested interests - fishermen and the oil industry - have for too long distracted our attention from the urgent need to modify our behaviour.

But this was not a week without hope. Sir Nicholas's report, despite its dramatic conclusion, was no counsel of despair. It demonstrated very clearly that if we spend 1 per cent of global GDP now to reduce our emissions, we can still enjoy formidable economic growth over the long term. Sir Nicholas thus nailed the lie that reducing our carbon emissions would mean regression to feudalism.

Our politicians are, of course, all now fighting for ownership of this issue. At the launch of the Stern report Gordon Brown stated his desire to put Britain in the forefront of the struggle against climate change. Mr Cameron has built his leadership of the Conservative Party on the platform of environmentalism. And our outgoing Prime Minister was yesterday pressing the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to make the struggle against climate change a priority during Germany's forthcoming EU presidency. Next week's summit in Nairobi to resume the negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto protocol will provide the opportunity for more political manoeuvring.

But for all this encouraging evidence that our leaders are waking up to the scale of the problem, we should remember that it was grass-roots pressure that pushed this issue up the agenda. And it will, no doubt, be grass-roots pressure that keeps it there. A mass rally, organised by the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, will take place in Trafalgar Square today. The range of groups represented - from the Women's Institute to Surfers against Sewage - will be formidable. A host of voices from different backgrounds will gather to deliver a firm message that urgent action is demanded.

There is growing pressure from the general public, too. Stern seems already to have made an impact. According to a poll this week, 53 per cent of Britons agree that the Government should impose higher taxes on activities that cause pollution, even if this means the end of cheap flights and makes motoring more expensive. But there are also lingering suspicions. Sixty-two per cent of those questioned believed our politicians' interest in green taxes is motivated more by raising revenue than improving the environment. It will be a challenge for our politicians to convince the public they are genuine in their concern for the planet. Mr Brown in particular, if he is to be the next Prime Minister, must demonstrate that he is serious.

Climate change is an issue that cuts across traditional political loyalties, class affiliations and economic interests. Everyone has an interest in the future of the planet. Our leaders must keep this in the forefront of their minds in the crucial months and years to come.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?