Climate change is the most important issue facing the world. It requires action, but it must be the right action, writes Cllr Robert Ward, Vice Chair of Scrutiny. We need clear thinking, leadership and crucially, to carry the public with us. The last thing we need is muddled logic or the destructive ideas of the more extreme lobby groups.
Clarity is hindered by ‘climate change’ conflating several questions: Is the earth warming? Do we understand why? What might be the consequences of different policy options? What should the UK do? Too many discussions fail to separate these issues, prompting passionate but futile argument, damaging the critical element - carrying the public with us. Let’s not do that.
Let’s also rely on the science, where the consensus is the earth is warming, mainly due to the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide generated by human activity. Other explanations are not impossible, it is the antithesis of science to deny challenge. Equally it’s foolish to deny the consensus. We should allow the possibility the consensus might be wrong but act on the basis it is not, refining our actions as knowledge improves.
Sticking with the science, the UK is responsible for around 1% of global carbon emissions. By contrast China generates 28%, the U.S. 15%. What they do matters much more than what the UK does.
What India and China have done in the last ten years is lift millions out of poverty, but in doing so India’s CO2 emissions have grown by 69% and China’s by 28%. They have chosen economic growth to benefit their citizens over constraining emissions. This is unlikely to change soon.
Russia generates its foreign currency from oil and gas. It might even benefit from a degree or two of temperature rise, so has little incentive to reduce emissions. Add these three countries to limited federal action in Trump’s America and most world emissions are by countries where radical action is unlikely. We must deal with the world as it is, not how we would like it to be.
Given that context the UK could decide to act only in concert with the big players, which as we have seen might be little; or take extreme unilateral action whose impact would be tiny and costs high, and options in between. Under the Conservatives the UK has chosen a leadership role: lobbying for global action whilst setting realistic targets for ourselves and making good progress against them. UK CO2 emissions have fallen by 30% over the last ten
years. In contrast Germany have reduced theirs by only 10%. Their emissions are now not far off double the UK.
Should we do more? Here the Climate Assembly UK commissioned by six House of Commons Select Committees might help. This group, selected to have a range of opinions on climate change, has been tasked with assessing how the UK will reach its 2050 net zero emissions target. That demands tough choices. It will be a useful indicator of the appetite of the British public for taking a more radical approach provided it is well briefed and well facilitated. The danger is that it is hi-jacked to give a democratic veneer to those extreme lobby groups. We shall see.
And what of local authorities? In Croydon the Labour-led Council have declared a climate emergency. They occasionally tack on “and ecological” for good measure. This has been followed up with a Citizens’ Assembly. There are also plans for a Climate Crisis Commission, for which the far-left New Economics Foundation has been drafted in.
In contrast to the Climate Assembly UK, representatives on the Croydon Citizens’ Assembly are being selected to be representative “across wards, and across groups that share protected characteristics”; no bad thing in itself, but diversity of characteristic, rather than of opinion. The Terms of Reference read as an ideas solicitation exercise rather than to confront difficult compromises, so avoiding the tough questions. Meanwhile the Council builds on green spaces and permits developments that remove mature trees.
This has the feel of a more expensive version of a previous Croydon quango: the chaotic, costly and useless Fairness Commission. The recipe is simple: a noble title with which it is hard to argue, a controlled membership with far-left guidance, conclusions to be invoked or ignored as and when convenient.
This is Labour’s usual playbook – find a problem, develop an apocalyptic narrative and use it as air cover for ineffective, far-left solutions. The current media narrative links every wrinkle in the weather to climate change, with dire predictions of imminent Armageddon. The young especially are being convinced that the end is nigh.
Combatting that narrative is a challenge. Climate change is complicated and scare stories are easy, but if we are to do what needs to be done for the UK to play an effective part then that is what it is going to take.