Greenhouse kids throw a tantrum
Tony Blair’s decision to talk down the Kyoto agreement really got environmentalists' backs up.
This morning, Greenpeace protested by dumping tonnes of coal outside Downing Street. ‘We’ve blockaded Downing Street with coal because Tony Blair has failed on climate change’, said executive director Stephen Tindale. ‘They told us things can only get better, but Blair’s burning more coal than ever, our CO2 emissions have gone up, he’s set to miss his own global warming targets and now it seems he’s trying to kill off the Kyoto Protocol.’ (1)
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has also gone on the attack. ‘Despite the huge difference in historic rhetoric on the key issues of climate change and the control of hazardous chemicals, the actual negotiating position of the prime minister becomes daily less discernable from that of US President George W Bush’, said campaigns director Andrew Lee (2).
These campaign groups are not alone in their concern. Lord Robert May, president of the Royal Society, has spent much of the past year making increasingly dramatic statements on climate change policy. As the BBC’s Roger Harrabin noted on the Today programme recently, ‘Lord May, if you have been following his utterings of the past year or so, has been getting more and more and more shrill on the issue of climate change. He is sounding like a desperate man. But he is shouting and shouting, and people aren’t hearing’ (3).
They have good reason to be worried. It had been widely assumed that Kyoto would be the first of a series of agreements setting tough targets to reduce greenhouse emissions. However, the cost of implementing even this treaty, which is widely recognised to be no better than a starting-point even by its most ardent supporters, is now starting to cause alarm.
The New Labour government smugly announced that Britain would set even tougher targets for itself than Kyoto demanded; yet it now seems likely that Britain will fail to reach those self-imposed goals, or even the Kyoto targets. As Baroness Byford noted in a House of Lords debate on the subject last week, ‘At Kyoto, the British government agreed to reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions by 12.5 per cent by 2012. Since 1997, UK emissions have risen by 5.5 per cent, and that increase steepened by 1.5 per cent in the last six months of 2004 and by 2.5 per cent in the first half of this year.’
Having spent a fortune promoting renewable energy, particularly wind power – about £1billion in subsidies are expected over the next five years – and having imposed a Climate Change Levy on homes and businesses making energy use more expensive, there seems to be less and less stomach for imposing the kind of additional burdens that would enable the UK to meet the targets it set itself only a few years ago.
If the fears of climate scientists are confirmed, significant climate change will happen anyway regardless of whether the Kyoto targets are met. In fact, as ‘skeptical environmentalist’ Bjorn Lomborg has noted elsewhere on spiked, even if you accept the worst fears about climate change, setting targets about carbon emissions is likely to be a horrendously expensive way of achieving very little. ‘Despite our intuition that we naturally need to do something drastic about such a costly global warming, economic analyses show that it will be far more expensive to cut CO2 emissions radically than to pay the costs of adaptation to the increased temperatures’, Lomborg argues (4).
Therefore, a shift towards adaptation rather than prevention as the basis of policy seems to be underway. The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) last week announced a consultation into existing preparations for climate change. Environment minister Elliot Morley commented: ‘Climate change is happening and it will impact on all organisations across the country. The government is aiming to put together an adaptation strategy to assist in this planning. But first we need to know what is already in hand.’ (5)
Whether or not there really will be substantial climate change remains unknown. But warmer weather, if it comes, should be balanced against all the other competing demands placed on society that are not given privileged status. As it happens, Blair is still banging the drum about the dangers of climate change – all he has suggested is a change in the way it is tackled.
But even this change of emphasis threatens to downgrade the status of environmental campaigns. Their response is tantamount to a child’s tantrum at being ignored.
spiked-issue: Global warming
(1) Coal dumped outside Downing Street, Scotsman, 14 November 2005
(2) Blair poised for failure on toxics and climate change, WWF, 14 November 2005
(3) Today, 10 November 2005
(4) Should we implement the Kyoto Protocol? No. by Bjorn Lomborg
(5) Defra gets interested in climate change, The Register, 9 November 2005
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