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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
How to turn Gordon Brown green
Stephen Hale
VIEWPOINT
Stephen Hale

Gordon Brown's environmental record as chancellor was far from impressive, argues Stephen Hale in this week's Green Room. As the UK's new prime minister settles into life at 10 Downing Street, Mr Hale offers some tips to help Mr Brown become a little more green.

Traffic (Getty Images)
Gordon Brown must focus, sooner rather than later, on the far more radical actions needed to get Britain on a path to a low-carbon economy
Brown is definitely not the new green. The new prime minister has a very steep hill to climb to restore the public's faith in the Labour government's commitment to the environment.

As chancellor, Gordon Brown constantly blocked new environmental policy and championed environmentally disastrous approaches to aviation and planning.

He did belatedly focus on the environment, in response to the recent high profile of climate change and other environmental issues.

But he had remarkably little to say on the environment during the pseudo leadership campaign.

Other than a recycled eco-towns announcement, one of his few comments came during his acceptance speech, in which he declared that: "We want all individuals and all businesses to join us and build a shared national purpose to make Britain a world leader in tackling climate change."

I'm afraid we need a little more detail than that, Gordon.

The most interesting feature of the campaign was the Climate Change Forum, a private gathering of 100 senior figures from the private and voluntary sectors, at which the prime minister spent an afternoon in discussion on domestic policy, civil society mobilisation and international action. By doing so he has raised expectations among an influential group.

Green tips

Now he has reached Number 10, I want him to succeed - for all our sakes. So I'm breaking the habit of a lifetime and offering him five pieces of advice for free.

Gordon Brown's challenge is... to secure a global agreement that limits global climate change to 2C

In one area, he should pick up where Tony Blair left off, by focusing on securing an international breakthrough on climate change.

The outcome of this year's G8 summit in Germany was an important step forward, a thawing in the glacial atmosphere of global climate change talks.

Mr Blair can't be faulted for the energy he threw into this cause. But Gordon Brown's challenge is immensely greater: to secure a global agreement that limits global climate change to 2C (3.6F). This must be his number one priority. By comparison, nothing else really matters.

International leadership cannot be sustained unless it is matched by delivery at home. The proposed Climate Change Bill will make Labour's emissions targets a legal duty. But existing policies in energy, transport and housing will not deliver them, and there is pressure to go further.

Gordon Brown on a bus (Getty Images)
Improving the UK's transport policy is a must, says Mr Hale

It would be embarrassing to rip up June's Energy White Paper at this point. But Gordon Brown must focus, sooner rather than later, on the far more radical actions needed to get Britain on a path to a low-carbon economy.

My third tip is simple. The planning white paper should be ripped up right now. It is anti-democratic, incompatible with the Climate Change Bill and a potential catastrophe for our countryside. Embarrassing I know. But the later it is left, the worse the climb-down will be.

The next piece of advice is more palatable. Gordon keeps telling us that he would like us all to do our bit to reduce emissions. Many of us couldn't agree more. But right now it's often just too difficult and expensive. Mr Brown needs to help us.

Transport, energy, housing and other policies need to be reviewed to make the green choice for individuals the natural choice.

Finally, Gordon Brown should reassure the sceptics by doing something impressive, and fast. Right now, most of us do not think he's serious about the environment. We need a reason to doubt that.

One simple move would be to finalise a marine bill for this year's Queen's Speech before the Conservatives launch a campaign to force him to do so.

Great expectations

Does Gordon want good green advice? His record before he crossed the threshold of Number 10 does not leave much room for optimism.

Sir Nicholas Stern (Image: AP)
Gordon Brown, as chancellor, commissioned the Stern Review

But the past is not necessarily a good predictor of the future, and there was much to welcome in his speech to Green Alliance in March.

The Cabinet reshuffle has not filled me with confidence though. David Miliband will no doubt maintain his environmental evangelism at the Foreign Office, Ruth Kelly should carry her growing commitment to the transport portfolio, and Hilary Benn goes to Defra with a strong personal commitment.

But three politicians with no apparent interest in the environment have been given top domestic positions: Alistair Darling (Treasury), John Hutton (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) and Hazel Blears (Communities and Local Government).

The new prime minister presents himself as a man of substance. This government has made plenty of green promises. Now it's time to deliver. Go on, Gordon, confound our expectations.

Green Alliance will publish a collection of open letters to Mr Brown later this month, from the leaders of environmental and other charities, business chiefs, the former England goalkeeper David James and other celebrities from the world of music. Maybe he will listen to them.

Stephen Hale is director of the Green Alliance, an environmental policy think-tank

The Green Room, now published on Mondays, is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website


Do you agree with Stephen Hale? Is Gordon Brown, as prime minister, going to overlook environmental issues? Does the government need to change its current policies in order to deliver its carbon cuts?

Dave James to the rescue eh? I'll sleep better at night now, that's for sure!
Alex Ross, Shipley, England

Stephan is right on the money. Affordable housing is a hugely important issue but this should be seen as an opportunity to develop new, efficient, well insulated, water and energy saving housing that complements the environment, rather than detracts from it. This doesn't have to be expensive, it's often just a case of applying foresight, good design and intelligence .

If dense housing is the answer then it should be done in a way that allows for recycling, composting and makes provision for shared green space that's good for growing. Housing needs to be integrated with work and transport - it should be easy to get to amenities, shops and work places by foot, bike, bus and train and not force people to rely on cars.

I'd like to know why this isn't obvious to everybody and at the top of political agendas.
Tim Lewis, Horsham

Clearly Mr Hale is one of a growing army of people who now make a good living from the globalised eco-industry. It would be interesting to know more about who funds the 'green alliance.' Until then the rest of us will try to make a living by more productive activities and pray that Mr Hale's view of Gordon Brown is correct - hopefully there will be a brake on ecochondriac policies before the last factory moves to China.
John, England

Gordon Brown, clearly, doesn't give a damn for the environment - he's spent the last ten years "massaging2 his city mates, but, then, find me a politician who does really care!!
Richard Crowley, Shropshire

"Gordon Brown is not proving himself to be a green minister with this first draft programme. The Climate Change Bill is without doubt a key bill for the environment, but protection of our seas and its resources such as fish stocks are key to improving our resilience and ability to respond to climate change and the Marine Bill has a vital role to play
Samantha Fanshawe Marine Conservation Society, Ross-on-Wye, UK

The greatest action that he could take is to drive through a plan to massive expand the nuclear power industry in the UK. Similtaneous with this the closure of all coal and oil fired power stations would do more than any other thing in combatting climate change. Buying low energy light bulbs, driving smaller cars, taxing air travel are all individually laudable, but amount to a fraction of the saving available if we embraced cheap, clean,and renewable nuclear power.
Paul Owens, N ovato, CA - USA




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