Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns