The great myth that lies at the heart of our approach towards the environment

Share
Related Topics

The Prime Minister has been making the right noises on the need to do something about global warming for some time now. In a speech today, he is expected to make more of it, announcing that he plans to put climate change - together with the plight of Africa - at the top of the international political agenda for 2005, during which Britain will, influentially, take the chair of both the EU and the G8 group of rich nations.

The Prime Minister has been making the right noises on the need to do something about global warming for some time now. In a speech today, he is expected to make more of it, announcing that he plans to put climate change - together with the plight of Africa - at the top of the international political agenda for 2005, during which Britain will, influentially, take the chair of both the EU and the G8 group of rich nations.

Making the right noises on the environment is not something to be sniffed at. Today the majority of scientific opinion on the danger of global warming is not matched by any political consensus on action. That is most particularly true in Washington where, we are constantly being told (though we see little evidence), Mr Blair is a figure of considerable influence.

Having said that, the Prime Minister's record of action in matters green is a mixed one. Global warming, undoubtedly the greatest environmental challenge of our time, is driven by two engines in domestic politics - the strategies on energy and transport which between them are responsible for the vast bulk of the nation's production of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

On energy, to Mr Blair's credit, his government has presided over an important paradigm shift. In the past, policy was governed by two key considerations. Is the nation's supply secure? And is the price of gas too high in the eyes of voters? Under Mr Blair, those factors have been subjected to a third: how do we secure a low-carbon future to protect the environment?

Yet if the right questions are being asked, the answers currently being given, on how to achieve the pledge to produce 20 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020, are unimpressive. At present, wind energy is the only solution being taken seriously, and this cannot produce the volume required, most particularly now that proposals for wind farms - which are invariably in upland sites, many of them areas of outstanding natural beauty - are drawing significant opposition from local people and conservationists.

But it is in the second major area that the Government is to be found wanting. A transport policy that continually approves new roads and runways, in the teeth of the resolve on energy, appears to be a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. This lack of joined-up thinking typifies so much of the world's eco-strategy. In Britain, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act considerably strengthened countryside conservation, even as government approval for GM crop trials threatened to undermine it. Energy efficiency incentives for industry are to be applauded, but Mr Blair earns few brownie points on waste - where improvements are driven by EU directive rather than government initiative. Nor can he claim much credit for the fact that our rivers are now cleaner than they have ever been since the industrial revolution; that success is down to the water regulation regime established when water was privatised in the Tory era.

In any case, all that seems small beer set against the apocalyptic business of climate change. The last two UK governments have had a free ride on our Kyoto commitment to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent by 2010; the UK is on course to meet them only because our coal industry collapsed and was replaced by gas two decades ago. But the Government's more ambitious domestic target - to cut emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels - is unlikely to be fulfilled.

The great myth at the heart of existing policy is that there can be a win-win solution to the problem. The unpalatable truth is that change of the magnitude needed will only be achieved at a cost. Whether that will be an end to cheap air travel or the desecration of beauty spots by massive wind turbines, or some other solution, is a long way off being decided. The evidence is that Mr Blair's government, along with the rest of our society, has not yet got to grips with what will be the political price of change - and who will pay.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Kent - up to £33,000

£30000 - £33000 per annum + bonus and pension: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst...

Recruitment Genius: Web Content Administrator

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Content Administrator is required ...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Service Manager - Birmingham

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Yorkshire Terrier waits to be judged during the Toy and Utility day of the Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham  

There are no winners at Crufts. Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a 'beauty' pageant

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Daily catch-up: how come Ed Miliband’s tuition fee ‘cut’ is so popular, then?

John Rentoul
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn