Environmental Popularity Contest
This is one of the reasons I decided to go on a fact-finding visit with WWF to the Arctic Research Station at Ny Alesund in Norway. I want to see for myself the effects of climate change, not just to see a retreating glacier but to meet leading scientific and research experts. Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the world and we must have a much greater sense of urgency about tackling it.
There are three key elements to the approach we must take. First, we need to recognise that this is an issue that will outlast the span of any one prime minister or parliament and it needs to be dealt with on a cross-party basis. That is why the Conservatives have joined together with the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and others to produce a joint statement on a cross-party approach to climate change. Sadly, Labour has declined invitations to join this initiative. Second, we need to recognise the importance of setting clear and binding targets. The Government has set a target for 2010 which it is now unlikely to meet. It also has a longer-term target for 2050 which on current projections it has little prospect of meeting. What we need is a binding annual target that commits us to real progress and a carbon audit office to make sure that we are achieving it.
These are pretty strong words coming from a conservative politician, and one would be hard-pressed to find Democrats in the US regularly addressing the issue so aggressively. Still, his competitor Gordon Brown accuses Cameron of just paying lip service to the environmental cause, as The Independent reports:
In a pre-emptive strike last night, Mr Brown suggested that Mr Cameron's conversion to the green cause was based on spin rather than substance. He told the BBC: "The big issue on the environment is whether politicians can move beyond words to talking about the substantive policies necessary."
Challenging Mr Cameron to support the Government's climate change levy on industry, Mr Brown said: "If you want to support environmental policies you've got to support them in deeds. This means difficult decisions that require leadership. You are going to be judged in the end on the deeds, on what you have been able to do and how you can bring the rest of the world round to the policies that need to be followed." Brown aides contrasted the Chancellor's appearance on the world stage with Mr Cameron's visit to "a glacier" and the Tories' call for people to change their behaviour to help the environment with Mr Brown's plan for worldwide action.
Only time will tell how genuine Cameron really is, but the fact that both politicians are jostling over establishing their environmental credentials is surely a positive sign for the UK. This stands in stark contrast to the US—a country that arguably needs to take decisive environmental action more than any other—as President Bush continues to downplay the human contribution to global warming and to evade taking decisive action on the issue. At the same time, allegations of his administration censoring climate change research continue to emerge, even in the wake of the NASA censorship scandal, which culminated with the resignation of an administration appointee due to revelations made by The Scientific Activist. In the meantime, a recent report indicates that US greenhouse gas emissions—the largest in the world—have continued to rise in the face of increasing international concern.
Now would be as good a time as ever for environmentalism to be the popular cause of the day, and the UK seems to have the right idea here.