Intervention in Syria must be aimed at toppling Assad - or there's no point

Token engagement would be equally damaging to both the west and to Syria. We should consider the costs of leaving the regime in the place.

David Cameron has recalled Parliament in order to have a vote on whether or not the UK should take military action against Syria. I applaud this move; it is one I have long argued for. But the early signs are not encouraging. The suggestion seems to be that we will make a limited response to the use of chemical weapons. In other words, this is not about regime change but about making some sort of tit for tat, "let's show them who's the boss", strike. Such an effort would be completely pointless.

Some argue that we should not be choosing sides in Syria. But we already have. Our leaders decided long ago that they wanted Assad out and have said so on numerous occasions. As a result, we either get involved with the idea of making a real, positive difference in Syria or we stay clear of the whole thing. After the chemical weapons incident of the 21st, sitting on the sidelines seems almost impossible. If we don't respond to chemical weapons being used, we give carte blanche to every tin pot dictator to use them with impunity from here on. But token engagement would be equally damaging to both the west and to Syria. If we're going to take action that we know will cost lives, it needs to be done with the thought in mind that many more lives will be saved in the long-term through our efforts.

I was on Daybreak this morning before Diane Abbott, who has warned that she may resign from the Labour frontbench if Ed Miliband endorses military intervention in Syria. While we fundamentally disagree on the basics, I agree with Diane on one thing: if Britain gets involved in any way militarily we take some level of ownership over the whole thing. We cannot 'kind of' get involved - once we're in, whatever happens in Syria from then on becomes our business in a way that isn't true if we sit on our hands. All of which is fine so long as we aim to make our intervention count.

People have compared the current situation we face with Syria to that we faced over Iraq 10 years ago. While there are many differences between the two scenarios (there is a war going on in Syria that we should be trying to stop, whereas there was no war in Iraq before we invaded), the parallel with Iraq that no one has yet made is the 1991 Gulf War and the failure to depose Saddam. It was about Kuwait, it was said at the time, nothing more. How likely is it that 12 years from now we are going to have to send troops into Syria when the civil war is still raging and the number of people killed or displaced has entered the millions? I think we would be severely regretting not having taken the chance to end the conflict when we had the opportunity to do so.

William Hague arrives in Downing Street on August 28, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

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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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