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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy