Leading article: The wheels are in motion and time is running out


The United Nations' climate-change conference in Bali has reached its halfway point. But the most encouraging moves in the struggle against catastrophic global warming seem to be taking place far from the conference hall.

Britain's Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, is due to make an announcement in Berlin today on plans for wind power that could make the UK a genuine world leader in the field of renewable energy. We are blessed in these islands with vast natural energy sources in wind and tide. If this plan turns out to be as ambitious as sold, we will finally begin to capitalise on these resources. By all accounts, this represents a U-turn. Recent reports suggested that Mr Hutton was shying away from the Government's commitments on renewables on the grounds that they could crowd out private-sector investment in nuclear power. Mr Hutton appears to have been put right by Gordon Brown. If so, this is to the credit of Mr Brown. The Prime Minister now needs to reverse his decision to allow Heathrow airport to expand and he will begin to repair his environmental credentials.

Another encouraging shift has taken place on the other side of the wind-blown Atlantic Ocean. Apologists for years of White House inaction on climate change used to argue that this lethargy at least had democratic legitimacy, pointing out that in the 1990s, the United States Congress overwhelmingly rejected the Kyoto Protocol. This no longer stands. Last week, both houses of Congress advanced bills to cut emissions and boost the use of renewables. Meanwhile, 26 state governments have taken action on emissions without waiting for a lead from Washington. It is now plainer than ever that President George Bush stands almost alone within the US in his opposition to internationally co-ordinated action on global warming. While he no longer denies the science, Mr Bush is obstructing attempts to meet the threat. The President will step down in a year's time. But the world cannot simply wait for this disastrous administration to disappear when faced with a threat as urgent as climate change.

The target of keeping the heating of the planet within 2C requires urgent action to decrease emissions. The consensus of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that global emissions must peak within 10 years, and then begin to fall rapidly by the middle of the century, if we are to achieve this minimum objective.

The outlook is not encouraging. There is a pessimistic mood among observers of the Bali meeting, which ends on Friday. Despite Australia's welcome change of stance under its new prime minister, China and the United States are reportedly resisting a commitment to mandatory caps on emissions. No successor to the Kyoto Protocol is expected to emerge from Bali. The best that can be hoped for is, apparently, a "road-map" for future talks. Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief, has argued: "This meeting is not about delivering a fully negotiated climate change deal, but it is to set the wheels in motion."

Yet the wheels of catastrophic climate change are already in motion. Time is a luxury that our societies do not have. Our report today, outlining BP's ambitions to exploit the vast Canadian "oil sands", emphasises that we are heading in the wrong direction.

Unless the gathering in Bali is able to muster a significant step towards an international and mandatory system of emission cuts, it will go down in history as an unforgivably wasted opportunity. And thosegovernments that failed to play a constructive role in these negotiations will find their historical reputations stained indelibly.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an enthusias...

Maths Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an enthusiastic Maths Tea...

English Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a dynamic En...

SAP Data Migration Lead

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise  

The UK economy may be back on track, but ordinary people are still being left behind

James Moore
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

The true cost of being disabled goes far beyond just the physical

James Moore
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform