How to cut energy use without pain

John Prescott insists that we can remain prosperous and still beat global warming

A year ago, at Kyoto, the world reached an historic agreement to combat climate change by cutting greenhouse emissions. Developed countries would reduce emissions 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. The US agreed a 7 per cent cut, having started the negotiations at 0 per cent. Europe took 8 per cent.

Last week, 160 nations gathered in Buenos Aires to put the seal on a plan to combat climate change. At 3am on Saturday - nine hours after the conference was due to end - and with the chief negotiators still locked in discussion, the G77 developing countries' representatives picked up their bags and walked out. By 5am, after a good deal of talking - including a fair bit of plain language from me - we had put together a package which brought them back and satisfied everybody.

The backdrop to the conference was provided by the daily reports from Honduras and Nicaragua, confirming the thousands who had died and the hundreds of thousands who had lost their homes in Hurricane Mitch. This is just one of a series of disasters over the past year that have heightened public awareness about the dire consequences of climate change: forest fires in Indonesia, floods in China, heat-waves, droughts and storms around the globe and the ice caps melting. This is a warning the world ignores at its peril.

The science is no longer in doubt. This year is set to be the world's hottest since records began. Four of the five hottest years in the UK since 1650 have occurred in the past ten years. This is a long-term problem but it requires immediate action.

When Labour took office in May last year, progress on international agreement to tackle climate change had stalled. The voluntary targets for restraining greenhouse gases, agreed at Rio in 1992, had been ignored by most countries.

At the UN special session in New York in July last year, Tony Blair left no one in doubt about the priority the new UK government placed on the environment and climate change in particular. Indeed his speech was taken as a sharp prompt for other developed countries to take the matter more seriously. That plea was heeded, as the Kyoto agreement showed.

Last month, the UK became the first country to consult in detail on a domestic programme to combat climate change. We showed how greater energy efficiency, a better transport policy, fiscal sticks and carrots, and an increase in renewable energy could take us towards our targets. A series of government measures, including our transport policy, emphasis on urban renewal and household growth on brownfield sites and promotion of renewable energy, all reinforce the drive for energy efficiency.

The main purpose of the Buenos Aires conference was to turn the targets agreed at Kyoto into practical reality. At Kyoto I said we had a two- to three-year "window of credibility" through which to move towards ratification. But less than 12 months from Kyoto, we have achieved the following:

l All the targets for the years 2008-12 agreed at Kyoto remained intact.

l All the leading industrialised countries, including the USA, have signed the protocol - an important precursor to final ratification.

l All the flexibilities are the same ones we agreed at Kyoto (trading emissions permits to encourage cost efficiency; credits for projects in other developed countries; credits for helping developing countries with clean technology). Everyone agrees we must have proper rules to control them. Now we have set a timetable for agreeing those rules within two years.

l We have made a priority of transferring technology to developing countries to aid "cleaner growth".

In short, Kyoto set the targets. Now we have a plan of action to make them work: a working programme, working groups and a working timetable.

I am proud of the role this country played in brokering a world agreement in Kyoto last year, and Britain has continued to set an example. We have agreed a legally binding target of a 12.5 per cent cut in greenhouse gases. We are well on our way to achieving this target and want to go further with a 20 per cent cut in CO2 emissions. It is an ambitious target, but I am confident we can achieve it.

And we can do so without damage to British industry or society. There is no trade-off between prosperity and the environment. Tackling climate change is an opportunity, not a burden. This is about gain not pain.

Better-insulated homes use less energy but they are also more comfortable and cheaper. A better public transport system reduces exhaust fumes, but it also offers all of us more choice and cuts traffic delays. A more energy-efficient industry will be cleaner but also more competitive, as the Marshall report on economic instruments and business use of energy has argued. And rather than costing jobs, there is a world of opportunity opening up for British business which is already at the cutting edge of the new environmental technologies.

This government intends to put the environment at the heart of decision-making, alongside economic growth and social justice. We will shortly be taking another major step forward.

We are used to judging the economy's performance through statistics such as GDP, inflation and employment figures. I will be announcing a new set of figures by which to measure not just the standard of living but also the quality of life, in terms of such everyday concerns as health, jobs, air quality and wildlife.

I intend that these "quality of life" indicators will, over time, become just as useful and familiar as the conventional economic indicators. They will help government, business, local authorities and individuals to do their bit for sustainable development.

Putting sustainable development centre-stage is the right thing both for us and for future generations. I hope you agree. I know from Radio 4's Thought for the Day that the Bishop of Liverpool - like me, an ex-seafarer - is on my side.

The writer is the Deputy Prime Minister

This article first appeared in the 20 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, A prejudice as American as apple pie

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.