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

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
Show Hide image

Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

0800 7318496