Humbug 'til the end

How Tony Blair's foreign farewell tour contributed 600 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere, writes the G

So Blair is on his way at last. I must admit that even though I know nothing will be different on my first post-Blair dawn, I do feel a sense of relief at seeing the back of him. But until then, he’s been saying goodbye, and what a long goodbye it’s been.

Blair’s farewell tour has taken in four continents and about four hundred self-congratulatory photocalls. In the past six weeks he’s been to the USA, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Germany, Belgium and Italy. We’ve watched his premiership being praised by everyone from Nelson Mandela to the Pope in Rome.

The purpose of the trip is obvious. Blair and his PR chiefs want him to go out on a high, and he wants to polish up his CV for all those post-PM jobs. Parading him around the world stage, showing him pressing flesh with celebs and world leaders is the ideal way to demonstrate what Blair is perceived - outside the UK at least - to be good at.

Of course a tour of the UK, reflecting upon the last ten years with the people who put him in office would have been a disaster. A six-week gauntlet of heckling by public sector workers with below-inflation pay rises, students suffocated by debt and angry residents blighted by new roads and runways would have been more honest but wouldn’t have pleased the spin doctors. No, much better to send him off abroad than let him face the people he’s responsible to.

On Blair’s penultimate day as PM, his final press conference was a joint effort with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The subject was one of Blair’s favourites – climate change. Yet again we heard him say it was his top priority. “We need to tackle climate change at every level,” he said.

But on this subject probably more than any other, Blair’s rhetoric and the facts on the ground are miles apart.

To see where his real priorities lay over the past decade, don’t read the speeches, look at where he has been spending our money. If Blair really did take global warming seriously, he would have made sure we were investing in tackling it, not backing plans that are guaranteed to increase our emissions.

To give just one example, the amount being spent widening the M1 from Luton to Leeds dwarfs the amount spent on renewable energy. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme of £80 million for renewable energy in homes and communities is less than one sixtieth of the £5.1 billion committed to one road. In every sector - road transport, aviation, energy efficiency and renewable energy - the climate rhetoric has not been matched with the policies we need. No wonder the UK’s emissions have risen not fallen since he took over.

And the farewell tour itself seems to mirror the hypocrisy of Blair’s climate policies. As if trying to fulfil his plan to double aviation in the next 25 years all by himself, the carbon footprint of Blair’s final months is astounding.

Covering more than 34,000 miles in eight trips abroad, largely in private jets chartered at the public’s expense, he and his entourage have emitted around 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The average person in Britain emits around ten tonnes a year – too much still, but sixty times less than Blair managed in less than two months.

There has never been anything humble about Blair, and the grandiose posing of his final weeks perhaps sums up his premiership rather well. For all his fine words on the threat posed by climate change, he clearly doesn’t believe that the limits of the world’s resources apply to the likes of him.