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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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