Britain has been a leader in the fight against climate change – but more needs to be done

Following recent warnings of imminent environmental catastrophe, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable considers five ways to accelerate the global recovery

Monday 27 May 2019 14:54 BST
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Polar bears have seen their habits drastically change in recent years
Polar bears have seen their habits drastically change in recent years

One of the most sobering experiences of my professional life was working in the team in the 1980s which produced the Brundtland report, Our Common Future, for the UN secretary general. The report helped to define the concept of sustainable development, the recognition that economic growth (or development) has to be environmentally sustainable, respecting the importance of environmental limits and costs. It was sobering partly because it brought out clearly the nature of the threats; the scientific findings of global warming and climate change emerged from the Bellagio conclave at that time, and the scientific work on mass extinctions was solidifying.

It was also sobering because of the very different reactions of the representatives of rich and poor countries. While the former demanded a reversal of the fixation with economic growth and its environmental, resource-depleting, side effects, the latter wanted more growth in living standards to counter the environmentally negative effects of poverty: high birth rates, lack of facilities for sanitation, polluting forms of primitive energy like green wood and charcoal burning.

The last generation has seen, through the rapid growth of China and, now India, Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere, the latter view predominate. Moreover, that view has been largely vindicated, as economic development has fed through, sometimes dramatically, to lower fertility and population growth, and energy efficiency.

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