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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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