Monday, 30 June 2008

Climate change- the issue of our time

96% of respondents disagreed with the statement, "my home energy bill needs to rise to help combat climate change," in a Yougov poll reported in The Independent today. The same piece reports an Ernst and Young estimate that bills will have to rise by an average £213 to meet the Government's targets (though, given that it's bad news, the E&Y report says 'the EU's'- that's just the formula I'm afraid.)

There is no further political advantage to be gained from being green for either of the two main parties. Green politics played a central role in the de-toxification and re-brand of Cameron's Conservatives. It wasn't the issues in and of themselves. It was that they served a semiotic function. This was a new party that could talk about new politics- specifically the environment- in a refreshing way. Job done. No further advantage to be had.

Similarly, the Government's renewable energy policy announced last week will not secure it political advantage. It simply neutralises the Tory surge in this area. It is the right policy and it has rightly received a positive reaction in the liberal press. That's it. No further advantage to be had.

It is ultimately going to be one or both of these parties that has to confront that 96% figure. So why try to grab minuscule political gains in this area when there is bigger prize on offer? What is the bigger prize? Doing the right thing. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition need to say in clear terms, perhaps on the same platform (gosh, aren't we grown up!):

"Climate change is deadly serious, we know that you are hurting from increased energy prices, we have different ideas about how to make it easier for you, but let's be clear, we are stood in absolute unity on this, we have a stark choice that is no-one's fault, it's just that the earth's resources can't keep pace with the current rate of economic expansion. That choice is to make the adjustment now and see energy prices increase, or don't and they will rise anyway to unimaginably high levels AND we will continue to trash the environment which will lead to millions of deaths, disease, starvation, who knows what it will do to our climate, and will lead to wars and untold human suffering. That's the choice, we all need to do our bit. There are some things that are beyond politics and this is one of them. It's not all bad though. If we make the adjustment we'll create lots of jobs in green technologies and that will make us a more prosperous nation. We stand united on this issue. Thank you."

This may all seem crazy but that 96% figure is terrifying. It can only be confronted on the basis of a genuine, cross-party, political consensus. Unless we enter into a proper national dialogue politicians of all different colours will have to bear the periodic and volatile consequences. The need for national and international consensus has scarcely been more important than it is on this issue. Climate change is the issue of our time.

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