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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Climate Change Bill - personal views...
Mike Childs
Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth

Tony Blair
Friends of the Earth had high hopes when Blair was elected in 1997

When Tony Blair swept to power in 1997 the environmental movement held great hopes.

He was a leader elected on a manifesto commitment to cut levels of carbon dioxide by 20% by 2010 from 1990 levels.

A commitment that showed seriousness about climate change which would provide much needed international leadership on an issue of global concern.

Fast forward 10 years and emissions of carbon dioxide are higher now than in 1997.

Yet in the intervening period, the science of climate change became stronger, understanding of the urgency needed to reduce emission fast increased, and the impacts of climate change cross the world became visible.

What reason was there for the growing gap between what science said needed to be done and what was being done in practice?

The answer was political short-termism.

At every decision-making point, the government chose short-term political popularity before scientific necessity.

Petrol pumps
Fuel protests in 2000 exerted political pressure

Decisions on aviation, fuel protests, house-building standards, road building, and emissions caps on industry were all decisions that went the wrong way.

This is why a climate change bill is necessary.

Short-termism

The science clearly says that emissions cuts are needed urgently.

A legal requirement to cut emissions binds this government and future governments to this course of action.

Experience of this government's broken manifesto pledge also demonstrates that 10 year targets are just not good enough.

Political short-termism will dictate no action in the early years and a future government inheriting a position which makes it impossible to hit the target.

Year on year, legal targets prevent this, as well as ensuring that the cumulative emissions are kept low (as it is the cumulative impact of emissions, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that creates the problem).

Planes
Emissions from flights account for an increasing proportion of CO2 emissions

But legal requirements for year on year reductions on their own do not suffice.

The amount of reductions each year is important.

Can we choose to leave this to the politicians?

The fisheries issue shows that politicians will ignore scientific recommendations (in this case on maximum catches) and instead, choose a level which is less politically difficult.

Grasping the nettle

The consequences of ignoring scientific advice on greenhouse gas emissions are far greater than ignoring advice on fisheries.

The lives of billions of people across the world need politicians to follow sound scientific advice.

Gordon Brown was brave enough to take interest rate setting out of politicians' hands and hand it to an independent Bank of England.

The government must do the same with reduction rates for greenhouses gases.

If they don't, then political short-termism will be the death of us.

This is a personal view of Mike Childs, Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth.



Join Jon Sopel and guests for the Politics Show on Sunday 29 October 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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