Cruising for a bruising

The prime minister seems to have woken up to the reality of climate change. So why is his government so recklessly keen on encouraging the aviation industry?

June 1, 2004
4 min read

Tony Blair hasn’t said a lot on the environment. So a speech in April suggesting that climate change “would dominate the world agenda in the years to come” certainly came as a pleasant surprise. Apparently, some within Number 10 are actually concerned about the issue: Geoff Mulgan and David Miliband, the current and former heads of the Number 10 policy unit, have talked about the “contraction and convergence’ model for addressing climate change. (I wonder how Blair reconciles his new environmentalism with his support for the US war to secure Iraqi oil supplies.)

Blair’s statement on climate change came at the unveiling of the Climate Group, a body of companies, states and NGOs committed to moving forward on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The government has set a target for reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050: an admirable aim that requires concerted action. Yet the Climate Group is a curious launch pad for this mission. Its supporters include oil companies Shell and BP, who won’t be in too great a hurry to limit use of their core product.

The organisation is not the first forum to offer corporations the opportunity to take a lead on climate change. Corporate lobby groups have been tagging on to the Kyoto process for years. As concern over climate change has grown, and action of some sort has become inevitable, these groups have moved towards “constructive engagement”: working from within to prevent governments laying down regulations that would encourage business to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

It is possible that the government, with its small contingent of climate-change realists, hoped to overcome the strategy of the corporates by inviting some of its proponents to the high table. But if this was Blair’s thinking he hasn’t applied it in practice. The chance for the government to demonstrate that it was prepared to stand up to industry came a week after the Climate Group launch, with the release of figures that set limits on industry greenhouse gas emissions to be allowed under the EU’s emissions trading scheme. Disappointingly, the figures were watered down from a draft published earlier in the year.

Blair did possibly raise a few corporate eyebrows by making the vital point in his Climate Group speech that “some kind of trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection” had to be confronted. Contraction and Convergence research has, after all, highlighted a 100 per cent correlation between the output of carbon dioxide emissions and GDP from global industry over the past four decades. This relationship was indirectly referred to in April in the government’s review of its 2003 energy white paper. The review suggested that, despite a fall in the level of energy consumed per unit of GDP, a “step change” improvement in energy efficiency was still needed to meet the white paper’s objectives.

It’s quite a considerable step that needs to take place if greenhouse gas emissions are to be meaningfully reduced. Energy efficiency is a start, but, more than that, the government has to be honest about the need to tackle consumption. One of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases is air travel, for which the government has so far shied away from producing any kind of political vision. Blair holds out for technical fixes to lessen the polluting effect of aviation fuel, and insists: “It is just not feasible to say that we are going to cut the number of journeys that people make.” His government has decided to allow an expansion of UK airport capacity, despite a warning from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee that “if aviation emissions increase on the scale predicted by the Department of Transport, the UK’s emission reduction target will become meaningless and unachievable”.

It’s true that promising less in terms of material wealth for the sake of more in terms of health and overall wealth isn’t an immediate vote-winner at the ballot box. But this is the programme with which politicians will increasingly have to engage. They have the duty to explain how plentiful cheap flights lead to increasingly chaotic weather conditions to the detriment of us all. And they have the responsibility to outline not just the need for climate stability in 50 years time, but the policies that will lead to a genuine decrease in fossil fuel emissions – policies that start now.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope

New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments

Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit