Climate change - are we doing enough?

Are plans to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent enough to stave off the worst effects of climate ch

The latest draft of the Climate Change Bill may be riddled with unclear and insufficient targets for carbon reduction, but its defenders across all parties agreed that it’s the best option at the moment for meeting the ambitious 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions promised by Gordon Brown last year.

The issues were debated by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, Conservative spokesman Peter Ainsworth, Lib Dem Steve Webb, and Friends of the Earth (FoE) director Tony Juniper at a joint FoE/Evening Standard event in central London on 22 April.

The bill has been amended by the House of Lords, and will be put to the Commons within this legislative year.

Juniper praised the bill for its forward-thinking and its intention to significantly cut the UK’s carbon footprint, but criticised the failure to incorporate the latest scientific findings - that an 80 per cent reduction in carbon by 2050 is necessary to forestall the most dire effects of climate change, not 60 per cent, as originally predicted by Lord Stern in his damning environmental report last year.

Hilary Benn defended the 60 per cent target, asserting that the bill allowed for flexibility on this point. He noted that the Committee on Climate Change, a body of 15 scientists which will be given binding powers to advise and supervise the government’s progress in meeting the target, will have the power to change this target if necessary. “I’d much rather have scientists decide that then politicians,” he said.

But real doubts persist over the bill’s ability to substantially curb carbon emissions while avoiding any mention of the shipping and aviation industry, which are estimated as 6.5 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. Peter Ainsworth said it was “nonsense to pretend the impacts of aviation and shipping do not exist,” and criticised the government’s plan to fix the problem in the next five years.

The bill also curbs the amount of carbon payments the government may purchase at 30 per cent of all carbon emissions, leaving the UK responsible for 70 per cent of its carbon product. However, because the bill only accounts for carbon emissions and not other harmful greenhouse gases such as nitrogen and methane, the net effect of meeting these targets will not reverse the downward trajectory of global warming.

For all their talk of “people power” and the “court of public opinion,” none of the panellists were willing to entertain the notion of a personal carbon tax, claiming the population was not yet ready for such drastic cuts in their personal consumption. “It makes a huge difference who actually has to make sacrifices,” said Liberal Democrat spokesman Steve Webb. “There are difficult choices to be made, and there’s a danger of turning people off."

Juniper agreed, noting how the climate change movement has done such an effective job scaring the electorate, and now it was time to “show how positive impacts could be good for society and good for the economy.” But he emphasised that, without a commitment to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050, global warming would still be a monumental threat to the UK.

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State