Not so long ago, friends of mine learnt how I voted in the previous three UK general elections. Being more well-versed in politics than I, they guffawed, presumably thinking ‘wasted vote’, ‘dreamer’ or ‘ignoramus’! Well, I understand the logic of voting strategically. But when I learn of clear expressions of positive, progressive political vision, I find it inspiring and something of a relief, whatever the political affiliation behind the voice expressing it. The following refers to a blueprint for climate change reform, published yesterday by the UK’s Liberal Democrats:
Party Leader Sir Menzies Campbell explained that climate change needed to move up the political agenda, pointing to extreme weather in Australia, the New Orleans hurricane, and this summer’s floods in the UK. The document is a vision of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050, including the total replacement of petrol-powered cars by 2040 and an end to nuclear power stations.
Other details include Labour’s climate change levy on industry being replaced with a formal carbon tax; the EU’s “cap and trade” system of emissions trading made more ambitious by EU-wide agreement; and a campaign to push Europe towards collective taxation of aviation fuel, regardless of whether America and other countries comply.
The document goes significantly further than anything proposed by the Conservative leader, David Cameron, despite his self-professed green sympathies. If anything, the Lib Dem blueprint may be overambitious, leading to criticism that it is untenable and idealistic. It envisages international post-Kyoto agreements designed to prevent global temperatures from rising above the 2°celsius level which is thought to make alterations to the environment irreversible. Post-Kyoto target agreements are often hampered by debate about the role of developing countries in emissions, and the Lib Dems want tighter carbon emission targets for developed countries (calculated per capita) which would gradually be extended to developing states in a multi-stage approach. Green technologies would be given to poor and industrialising nations to assist them in reducing emissions.
Sir Menzies attacked the Prime Minister for his repeated anti-green policies, and proposed a “tax pollution not people” approach: cutting income tax, and reverse the decline in green taxation – which has dropped to Thatcherite levels under Labour, Sir Menzies said.
The Party Leader stated that “This time it’s different”: “Climate change is a global problem that requires an international solution. Under our proposals the UK would set the green standard for others to reach.”
Hopefully such a bold statement of action on climate change from a major political party will raise the bar for all parties to start taking green issues seriously as parties compete for votes ahead of the general election expected in 2009.
– from Environmental Graffiti. (Sir Menzies Campbell has often been portrayed as too old or too politically naive to survive, let alone contribute effectively, in the cut and thrust of professional politics. Personally, I thought his voice as the Lib Dem’s Foreign Affairs spokesman to have been the most measured of all the mainstream political parties in the run up to the Iraq war; somehow he lost that gravitas when he became party leader.) Good that the ‘contraction and convergence‘ approach to addressing global warming, or something like it, is creeping into mainstream politics.
Here is Leo Hickman’s take, published in today’s Guardian, on the Lib Dems’ move:
The Lib Dems’ policy document is about as bold as a mainstream party is likely to go in today’s political scene. But the political climate is changing almost as quickly as the planet’s. It is highly likely that, even if voters reject this vision in the short term, it will drag the other parties’ policies in the same direction. No one is likely to run on a ticket of “Let’s burn lots more of the black stuff” ever again.
Update II (30.8.07)
And here’s Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems’ Environment Spokesman, published today, being positive:
We are also committed to 100% carbon-free renewable electricity by 2050 by providing new incentives. Subsidies should go to the new and developing technologies like wave, wind, solar and tidal power not to an old and failed technology like nuclear: no private investor has built a nuclear power station anywhere in the world without lashings of taxpayer subsidy since Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
By contrast, a Severn barrage or lagoon scheme to harness the world’s second strongest tidal surge could generate 5-7% of all UK electricity on its own. Add Airtricity’s supergrid for wind farms in the North Sea. Add microgeneration and localised solutions. Add energy efficiency, including green mortgages to fund upgrading of our homes. We can do it.