Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Is climate change politics working for the poor?

Sometimes politics is knockabout comedy. Sometimes it’s tragic farce. And, just sometimes, it looks as if it might do some good. At last Tuesday’s meeting on the climate change bill I felt several times that here was politics that could do good. But was I right?

Climate Change Bill Public Meeting, 22 April 2008


  • Hilary Benn
    Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Peter Ainsworth
    Conservative Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary
  • Steve Webb
    Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Energy, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Tony Juniper
    Director of Friends of the Earth and representative of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition

Chair : Anne McElvoy, Executive Editor of the Evening Standard.

The speakers were Hilary Benn and his Tory and LibDem shadows, plus Tony Juniper of FoE – which had organised the meeting. The speakers told a packed and often enthusiastic, house – the main meeting hall at London’s Friends’ House – that climate change was a vital, urgent problem and that they were committed to serious action. They agreed that a target of 60% reduction by 2050 would not be enough.

They congratulated each other on their shared commitment and on making the UK the first country in the world to set itself legally-binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions. And they congratulated the NGOs, like PA, and the audience on their roles in putting climate change on the political agenda. Continued public pressure will be needed, they agreed, to keep up the momentum. Though disagreements emerged they seemed minor.

It seems churlish to object when people are talking sense. And yet – with the exception of one man who called Hilary Benn a murderer – there didn’t seem to be the sense of moral outrage the situation requires. Benn spoke of targets for 2050 and five year budgeting. The opposition claimed credit for demanding a tougher target and annual reports. There was more than a touch of complacency that we were doing the right thing.

Yet LibDem spokesman Steve Webb argued that if we count aviation and shipping emissions the UK has made NO cut since 1990. Yet we need to cut emissions by three per cent EACH year to reach even the 60% target.

In my view Sarah Mukherjee of the BBC asked the key question: “Shouldn’t we just use less stuff?”. No politician was prepared to agree. Even Steve Webb described it as “a possible second term strategy for the LibDems”.

Afterwards a group of Practical Action supporters shared experiences at a local pub. We also met Tory spokesman Peter Ainsworth, who was rather franker than he’d been in public. Politicians and public are moving. But are they moving fast enough?