The importance of being green

I didn't get it. I do now

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I have a confession to make. I'd better whisper it softly, especially given who I've been travelling with this past week. Until now I have secretly seen the environment, and even climate change, as second-order issues -- below poverty, say, or employment or health care. I thought green protesters, though good-hearted, were indulging in middle-class preoccupations while avoiding more pressing business at home and abroad.

I was wrong. This trip to Bangladesh and India with Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander has made me see that. It is not that I have had some conversion -- I didn't need to, having recognised the progressive case (not to mention the religious case) for protecting our world. But I now recognise, having seen the char villagers in Bangladesh, that the ministers are right: climate change and poverty are not separate issues but inextricably linked. This is not a new argument and I am ashamed how late I have come to the table. But, armed with more understanding of the issues in the run-up to Copenhagen, I see more clearly that developing countries in all sorts of ways pay the price for the industrialisation of the west. This is not fair and it highlights the pressing need for a compromise in December between the west, which must follow the UK and make heavy cuts to emissions, and the developing world, which must move towards cuts. It also illustrates the importance of the "skipping" stages of development to green industry in developing countries like India -- all the while retaining the natural right to grow their economies as ours have.

Last night at the British Council in Delhi, Miliband and Alexander sounded an optimistic note about the chances of a deal, partly as a result of constructive talks, and particularly after constructive meetings with Miliband's new opposite number. The renewed optimism is also thanks to a document, published by the Indians yesterday, outlining different projections for carbon cuts. The British visitors stressed the importance of getting a deal, noting there is no "plan B". In effect, they said, we must act now or never.

I wondered whether they were setting themselves up for a fall, especially so close to an election. For the sake of much more than their careers, let's hope not.

PS: It is amazing to think that if the conventional wisdom is right, and Labour loses, these talented ministers, with so much to offer, will suddenly be out of a job. I can't remember who their Tory opposite numbers are, but it is fair to say that certain parties I have spoken to, from NGO workers to diplomats to foreign politicians, are keeping their fingers crossed that the consensus will be proved wrong.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.