Letters: Climate change

Claim that we lead the world in climate fight does not add up
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Sir: In your piece "Cuts in carbon emissions will fail to meet election-pledge targets" (30 June), you refer to a statement by David Miliband that Britain was still a world leader in the battle against climate change. Whilst the UK certainly leads in terms of rhetoric, the reality is somewhat different.

Although Miliband may claim "carbon dioxide released in Britain would be cut by just 16 per cent in the two decades to 2010", the Government's own numbers reveal a very different story. Between 1990 and today carbon dioxide emissions have remained essentially unchanged once aviation and shipping are factored in. Moreover, work at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester estimates that, by 2010, UK carbon dioxide emissions will be in the region of 2 to 3 per cent higher than in 1990.

Such emission increases completely undermine the UK government's commitment to contribute to "limiting average global temperature increases to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels". The challenge of climate change is too urgent and too serious an issue for us to be other than honest and open about our emissions. Only then can we develop an effective path to a low-carbon future.



Sir: Changing from incandescent to fluorescent lighting seems like such a wonderful idea ("How many light bulbs does it take to save the planet?", 3 July). I liked it so much that I equipped my wilderness solar- and wind-powered cabin with such lighting. I heat with wood.

But the advantages fall short for the typical homeowner. As the article points out, incandescent lamps produce much more heat for the same amount of visible light output. For those of us who live in cooler climates and heat our homes with oil or gas or electricity, the savings effect of changing all of our lighting to fluorescent may be a rather disappointing nil.

For every watt-hour saved in heat in the lighting system, we will find that our electric heating will consume one more additional watt-hour in maintaining the desired room temperature. The only time fluorescent lighting saves energy is when our homes require no heating or when the lights are used out of doors.



Armed police swoop on a parked car

Sir: Add "terrorist parking" to the litany of new crimes in England. On 12 June I parked my Volvo Estate in Canary Wharf. Returning ten minutes later I was met by a three-man SWAT team with machine guns and bullet-proof vests.

They explained that I had "run off" and left my car in a sensitive area and that I had a foreign plate. The foreign plate was plainly marked from the United States. The team leader said they had already swept the car for explosives. They asked for ID, which I showed them and what I was doing there, which I told them. They took down these details and then said to wait because their supervisor was coming.

An inspector with two other regular officers arrived. I introduced myself and gave him a business card identifying myself as a lawyer from the United States visiting the UK. Now I was surrounded by six policemen. I was told by the inspector that they wanted to search my car and that I could agree to that or be held under the Terrorist Act and they would search it anyway.

The second group of officers took down my details and I was told that a terrorist report would be filed. Now there is a chance of being turned away from re-entry to the US because I can be flagged under the reporting requirement for information on all airline passengers for being investigated as a terrorist. For parking.

He then told me: "Well you weren't hurt and we weren't hurt." I disagree. When democracy requires people to prove on the street they are innocent at the point of machine guns and the threat of arrest as a terrorist for parking we are all hurt



Sir: Do we need an ombudsman whose remit requires him/her to examine trends in government-sponsored legislation and edicts in order to protect our freedoms; an ombudsman who reports directly to Parliament and has immunity from state-sponsored spin doctoring, telephone tapping and mail interception? The ombudsman would be able to receive and examine complaints from any citizen or organisation .

In this country we have, unlike some of our European counterparts, a police service which polices by public consent. The police are obliged by law, to enforce legislation enacted by Parliament, however unpopular.



Model African state loses British mission

Sir: The Prime Minister's announcement that British aid for education in Africa will be doubled (report 27 June) will be generally welcomed. But it highlights the inconsistencies in the Government's policies in Africa. Last year the Africa Commission and the Gleneagles Summit recommended increased aid for the poorest countries of Africa and support for good governance. Madagascar is one of the very poorest countries and its President Marc Ravalomanana could serve as a role model for good governance.

But only a month after the summit the FCO in effect withdrew our support from the President by closing our small embassy in Antananarivo. At the same time they terminated our only bilateral aid programme in the country, the modest but highly effective Small Grants Scheme which had financed hundreds of projects at the grass-roots level to the benefit of many thousands of the rural poor. The saving to the Government was less than £300,000 a year in each case.

The timing of the closure was particularly unfortunate at a time when Madagascar's substantial unexploited mineral resources are becoming of increasing interest to British companies. With the explosion of oil prices, Madagascar's reserves of oil and gas are also attracting attention.

A British embassy on the spot is needed not only to support a desperately poor country whose government is following all the recommendations of the Africa Commission; but also to protect and promote British interests. In addition to the major business investments there are some thirty British non-governmental organisations in the country working mainly in education, health and conservation. The FCO really should think again and re-open the embassy at the first suitable opportunity.



Unhelpful rhetoric about cannabis

Sir: The claim by the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that cannabis causes as much harm as cocaine and heroin is not just wrong but is irresponsible and counter-productive ("Britain deserves its drugs problem, says UN", 27 June).

Efforts to educate about the dangers of cannabis and prevent use are not helped by exaggeration and over-the-top comparisons which serve to understate the harms caused by other drugs. The evidence of the greater harms caused by heroin and cocaine - in terms of crime, drug-related deaths, blood-borne infections, poor physical and mental health - is overwhelming. Cannabis is harmful, but policy responses should be proportionate and based on evidence, not rhetoric.

The debate on cannabis reclassification has highlighted the harms the drug can cause and, although still too high, levels of use have fallen. Descriptions of a cannabis use as a "pandemic" serve no helpful purpose, and implicit criticism of policy in the UK by the UN is unfounded.



Sir: Antonio Maria Costa is right to point out the lack of a consistent strategy on cannabis and young people's confusions as to its risks. But the law cannot tackle this problem alone - in fact, since cannabis was reclassified to class C, use among young people has fallen, not risen.

In January this year, Charles Clarke promised to launch a "massive campaign" to ensure that the public knew about the risks of cannabis use. We have heard nothing since, yet action is urgently needed to end confusion among young people and the public more generally. People need to know now that smoking cannabis when young doubles your chance of developing psychosis.

The British government must develop an adequate response to what is a major public health problem, not a criminal justice issue.



Sir: When Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says that "it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government", presumably he is suggesting that sovereign nations cede control of drug policy to an unelected authority such as the UNODC so that the silly electorate cannot grant a mandate to a government that disagrees with his opinions.

Prohibition has been shown to be ineffective since it first began, in additional to boosting crime as addicts raise dirty cash to put into the hands of drug lords. It's high time we had a grown-up drug policy.



England's World Cup tragedy

Sir: As sofa fans of English football do, I thumped the nearest inanimate object as we lost another shootout; which happened to be the bookcase. This is a true story: Shakespeare's tragedies fell out, open at Julius Ceasar Act IV, scene iii, with the lines from Brutus: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries".

Which succinctly summed up both the promise and delinquency of England's underachieving "golden generation". Now if our Sven had been fond of the Bard instead of, mysteriously, Tibetan poetry, might he have been a tad more inspiring?



Sir: I was appalled that both BBC (radio and television) and ITV led their Sunday news bulletins with stories of Beckham's resignation, Eriksson's excuses and a Fifa investigation into Rooney's antics, relegating the deaths of British servicemen in Afghanistan to fourth place.



Sir: Forget England - most people have. Just look forward to a final between the industrious Germans and the stylish French. BMW v 2CV - what a prospect!



Care decisions for an elderly couple

Sir: Gloucestershire County Council social services did not prevent Beryll Driscoll living in a care home with her husband Richard ("Eight reasons why we need the Human Rights Act", 27 June) and did not change its dealings in this case because of Human Rights legislation. In fact, human rights issues were never raised with us by the family.

At the time Mr Driscoll entered residential care in 2005, Mrs Driscoll did not need nor wish to receive residential care for herself and continued to receive support in her own home. In response to a request from the family, a further assessment of her needs in 2006 enabled us to offer her, as soon as one became available, a place in the same care home as her husband.

The care of Mr and Mrs Driscoll was at all times our paramount priority and we worked with the family to achieve the best outcome for all concerned.



Top-shelf material

Sir: As the father of three daughters and grandfather of three granddaughters, I think Terence Blacker (30 June) judges Claire Curtis-Thomas unfairly. All she says is that pornographic material should not be laid out within easy reach of young eyes but kept on high "adult" shelves. What is wrong in that view?



The love of literature

Sir: I teach in higher education, and I have come across undergraduates on English literature courses who do not read for pleasure. These young people are products of the national curriculum which is now under review (report, 1 July). What will give schoolchildren a love of reading? Official lists of prescribed books have failed. Why not give teachers a free hand to teach the books about which they themselves are most enthusiastic?



Wrong people in prison

Sir: I worked for many years in the education department of an open prison. I was struck by the number of people in this and other prisons that are no danger to society, who are held in prison while others who are a clear threat are released (Johann Hari, 3 July). Prison should be for those that are a threat and fines and community work are better suited to the rest. Why cannot the victim of crime choose the form of community work those sentenced serve?



Unequal rewards

Sir: Tessa Jowell cites a number of famous women tennis players and says, "Each of them is easily the equal of their male counterparts" (You Ask the Questions", 3 July). Does she seriously believe that they could win a set again Roger Federer or even a game? Work of a lower standard should be less well rewarded. However, I would not expect any of today's politicians to subscribe to such a threatening principle.



Crowded pavements

Sir: Four-by-fours parking on the pavement (letter, 27 June)? It does at at least help to cut down the illegal cyclists.