Michael McCarthy: Gordon Brown doesn't get climate change


Independent, January 15, 2008

At a stroke Gordon Brown destroys his environmental credibility and that of his Government. His sanctioning of Heathrow's third runway with the huge leap in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions that will be consequent upon it will be seen as one of his premiership-defining decisions, on a par with his failure to call an election in October 2007. It will come back to haunt him.

It is very likely that in pushing this through, Mr Brown has been strongly influenced by his New Best Friend, the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, whom he brought back into the Cabinet, and who is strongly aligned with the business case for expanding Heathrow and the aviation sector as a boost to Britain's future economic performance.

But the Prime Minister of course has a mind of his own, and he would not have agreed to such a controversial measure if he did not at heart agree with it himself. And what his decision now proves beyond doubt is what many environmentalists and not a few politicians (including some of those close to him) have long suspected that Mr Brown does not really "get" climate change, in the way that, for example, Tony Blair clearly did.

He regards it as real, sure it was Mr Brown, after all, who appointed Sir Nicholas Stern to write his hugely influential report on global warming's costs but he regards it essentially as another in a list of problems which need to be tackled, on which dealing with equality and poverty are perhaps even more prominent.

You can see why. It is hard for anyone to go counter to their background and upbringing, especially if it was as intense as was Mr Brown's this son of the Manse who learned from his gravely upright father the unforgettable lesson that social justice matters most. And so it is understandable, but it is still a terrible error on Mr Brown's part as a world leader in 2009, not to see that the issue of global climate change is simply going to trump all his other long-held concerns, and make the alleviation of poverty and the attainment of social justice impossible. It matters more than anything else.

UK greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are rising faster than those of any other sector. To sanction a policy which actively promotes their expansion, in the very year when the international community is desperately trying to put together a treaty to cut emissions back hard, and Britain has officially adopted the target of cutting back its own emissions by 80 per cent, is political nonsense. The UK Government will be seen by all the world as saying one thing and doing the opposite. It is a disastrous example to give to the developing countries, whose own carbon emissions are soaring, and who will only take action to reduce them if they think rich countries such as Britain are leading the way. Gordon Brown simply doesn't get it: no other conclusion can be drawn.

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