David Cameron hasn't spoken about climate change for three years. Time is running out

It’s time the Prime Minister broke his silence and did something before it’s too late, writes Luciana Berger MP.

Climate change has not always commanded the attention it deserves, particularly in recent years. Two events this week have reminded us why we cannot afford to forget about it.

On Tuesday President Obama called for national and international action to tackle global warming.

Less than 24 hours after he finished speaking, the independent Committee on Climate Change warned [pdf] that the UK is not on track to meet its carbon reduction targets.

Their report highlights the grave threats but also the outstanding opportunities that combating climate change presents us with.

The case to act is both clear and compelling.

Our climate is changing. The causes are man-made. And we are already feeling the effects.

This shouldn’t be a matter of debate. The scientific consensus is overwhelming and includes 97 per cent of 4,000 academic studies carried out over the last 20 years.

As the President said himself on Tuesday, we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

He has listed Republican politicians who publicly deny climate change on his website. Judging by the noises that have been coming out of the Conservative Party over the past few weeks, we have enough material to start our own version here.

First the Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, dismissed climate change as “theology”.

Then Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, denied that the climate has changed – despite the twelve warmest years ever recorded all coming in the last fifteen. He added that any action to combat climate change may do more harm than good.

Elsewhere, Michael Gove is planning to airbrush climate change from the geography curriculum for key stage 3 students. And on the Tory backbenches, their ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ includes a bill to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change altogether.

Taken in isolation and any one of these examples would be cause for concern. Together, they paint a deeply disturbing picture.

What is even more alarming than what Tory ministers are saying, is what David Cameron is not saying.

At a time when world leaders such as Obama and President Hollande of France are speaking up about why we desperately need to seize this moment, our Prime Minister has apparently lost his voice when it comes to talking about climate change.

Remarkably, David Cameron hasn’t made a single speech on climate change in the three years since he became Prime Minister.

This is the same David Cameron who hugged huskies; said “Vote Blue, Go Green”; promised that his would be “the greenest government ever.”

But when you look at this Government’s appalling green record, it’s understandable why he is keeping quiet.

Our greenhouse gas emissions are going up rather than down: the UK’s carbon output jumped by 18 million tonnes in 2012 – more than any other country in Europe.

Investment in clean energy has plummeted to a seven-year low.

Less people are insulating their homes and the Green Deal, the Government’s flagship energy efficiency programme, isn’t working.

Now the government’s own independent advisors have warned that the UK has fallen behind on meeting our carbon reduction commitments.

It shows what a complete folly it was for the Government to ignore the Committee for Climate Change’s recommendation to set a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill currently progressing through Parliament. Pledging to clean up our power supply by 2030 would provide a shot in the arm for our flat-lining economy and give the certainty to investors which they are crying out for.

The combination of anti-green rhetoric and inaction also weakens our hand when negotiating with other nations for a new global climate change agreement.

We are approaching the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

We need to take every opportunity to build support for an international climate treaty before then and the UK should be at the forefront of that effort.

Regrettably, the Prime Minister decided to omit climate change from the official agenda for the G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland. When I asked him about this last week, he said he didn’t see the point of having “a long conversation about climate change.”

Climate change isn’t something that we can wait to talk about next week, next month or next year. Only a few weeks ago the concentration of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed through the landmark threshold of 400 parts per million.

We have to act now. If we do there is a chance we can avoid a rise in global temperatures of above 2C – the level that scientists have deemed to be dangerous.

With the right strategy, commitment and ingenuity, we can create a new green economy in the UK and unlock massive job opportunities in the process.

Delay or hesitate and we risk being left behind by other countries more willing to face the future and catastrophic consequences for future generations.

It’s time the Prime Minister broke his silence and did something before it’s too late.

Photograph: Getty Images/Alex Hern

Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree and Shadow Minister for Energy & Climate Change.

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Byron burgers and bacon sandwiches: can any politician get away with eating on camera?

Memo to aspirant world leaders: eating in public is a political minefield.

Miliband’s sandwich. Cameron’s hot dog. Osborne’s burger. The other Miliband’s banana. As well as excellent names for up-and-coming indie bands, these are just a few examples of now infamous food faux pas committed by British politicians.

During his entire mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan refused to eat anything in public. When journalist Simon Hattenstone met him in his local curry house for the Guardian, the now-mayor didn’t eat a single bite despite “dish after dish” arriving at the table. Who can blame him? Though Ed Miliband had been pictured blunderingly eating a bacon sandwich an entire year earlier, the national furore around the incident had not yet died down. “He can make me look Clooneyesque or make me look like Ed eating a bacon sandwich,” Khan said of the photographer at the time.

Miliband’s bacon sandwich is now so infamous that I need offer no explanation for the event other than those words. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the photograph of Ed, lips curled and eyes rolling, as he tucks into that fateful sarnie. Yet politicians frequently bite off more than they can chew – why did Ed’s mishap inspire multiple headlines and an entire front page of The Sun?

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“The momentum got behind the bacon sandwich story because he was awkward, it showed him in a light which was true - he was an awkward candidate in that election,” says Paul Baines, a professor of political marketing at Cranfield University. “He didn’t come across right.”

The photograph of Miliband fit neatly within a pre-existing image of the politician – that he was bumbling, incompetent, and unable to take control. Similarly, when David Cameron was pictured eating a hot dog with a knife and fork months later, the story reinforced popular notions of him as a posh, out-of-touch, champagne-swilling old Etonian. Though Oxford-educated, two-kitchen Miliband is nearly as privileged as Cameron, and Brexit-inducing Dave equally as incompetent as Ed, the pictures would not gain the same popularity in reverse. There are many, many less-than-flattering pictures of Cameron eating, but they didn’t fit into a workable narrative.

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No one, for example, focused on the price of Ed’s sandwich. Purchased at New Covenant Garden Market, it was undoubtedly more expensive than Greggs’ £1.75 bacon roll – but no one cared. When George Osborne was pictured eating an £8 Byron burger whilst cutting £11.5 million from the British budget, however, the picture spoke to many. The then-chancellor was forced to explain that “McDonalds doesn't deliver”, although, as it turned out, Byron didn’t either.

“The idea was to try and display him in a good light – here's a guy eating a burger just like everyone else. The only problem was it was a posh burger and of course he didn't look like everyone else because he was spending ten quid on a burger,” explains Baines.

But Dave, Ed, and George are just the latest in a long, long line of politicians who have been mocked for their eating habits. Across the ocean, Donald Trump has been lambasted for liking his steak well done, while in 1976, Gerald Ford was mocked after biting into the inedible corn husk of a tamale. Why then, do politicians not copy Khan, and avoid being pictured around food altogether?

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“Food connects everybody, food is essentially a connection to culture and the 'every person',” explains Baines. “[Nigel] Farage's appearance in the pub has definitely had a positive impact on how he's perceived by a big chunk of the working class electorate which is an important, sizeable group.” Though Cameron, too, has been pictured with pints, his undeniably weird grasp on the glass make the pictures seem inauthentic, compared to Farage whose pints are clearly at home in his hands. In America, Joe Biden managed to capture the same authenticity with an ice-cream cone.

“I think when it comes across badly is when it comes across as inauthentic,” says Baines. “If I were advising, I certainly wouldn't advise Theresa May to be seen in the pub having a pint, that would not shine with her particular character or style. But could Tim Farron come across better in that way? Possibly but it does have to be authentic.”

Food, then, can instantly make a politician seem in or out of touch. This is especially true when food connects to national identity. Tony Blair, for example, publicly claimed his favourite dish was fish and chips despite earlier saying it was fettuccine with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and capers. In the 1980s, Lord Mandelson allegedly mistook mushy peas for guacamole, insulting us all. In the States, you’d be hard pressed to find a politician who hasn’t been pictured with a hot dog, and there are entire articles dedicated to US politicians who eat pizza with a knife and fork. Again, the food fits a narrative – politicians out of touch with the common person.  

Then again, sometimes, just sometimes, no narrative is needed. We’d advise any candidate who seriously wants a shot in the 2017 General Election to not, under any circumstances, be pictured casually feeding a Solero to an unidentified young woman. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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