David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservatives, has been credited with "greening" the party. Yet, argues David Nussbaum in this week's Green Room, as the Tories begin changing the British political landscape, Mr Cameron appears to have gone quiet on environmental issues.
A bold statement on the environment would appeal to precisely those swing voters that are so needed by any party wanting to stake its claim to the middle ground
With London's new Mayor Boris Johnson arriving in City Hall, the dramatic result of the recent Crewe and Nantwich by-election and low public polling ratings for the Labour government, media speculation is rife that the Conservative Party could form the next government.
Leader David Cameron has been credited with transforming the image of the Conservatives, turning them into a party that is apparently much more compassionate and caring, more in tune with concerns and issues affecting ordinary people.
At the heart of this transformation has been the "greening" of the Conservative Party. Tory strategists have seen green politics as a vote winner, but also as symbolic of the modernising and rebranding of the party.
Even the new logo - a green tree - seems to underline this evolution.
Blue to green
Mr Cameron has also made green issues a personal issue, from cycling to work to having solar panels fitted to his home.
Perhaps the most visual and dramatic display yet was the now infamous image of him commanding a husky sledge in the Arctic two years ago.
WWF facilitated that trip to enable Mr Cameron to learn more about the impact of climate change on the Arctic.
The media didn't cover the less photogenic parts of the trip, such as him listening to presentations from top scientists and glaciologists who have spent years studying the Arctic, as well as meeting local people who have witnessed for themselves the changes in the place they call home.
In politics and in cycling, Mr Cameron likes to occupy the middle ground
Two years on, the Conservative leader has the perfect opportunity to show that his party really does care about green issues.
The Climate Change Bill, currently making very slow progress through the UK Parliament, is a groundbreaking piece of legislation which will legally bind the government to reduce carbon emissions year on year.
It could also set an example for the rest of the world to follow in tackling global carbon emissions.
Indeed, the Conservatives can claim some credit for its introduction in the first place. Mr Cameron's dramatic adoption of the environmental agenda helped steer the government into doing something radical.
A key question right now is whether any of the emissions reductions that the bill requires will actually happen in the UK.
The original Climate Change Bill contained a loophole that would have allowed the government to deliver the reductions by buying carbon credits and allowances from abroad.
The House of Lords likened this to the medieval practice of "buying indulgences", which would not set us on the path towards a low carbon economy. So the peers inserted a requirement that 70% of the reductions should happen in the UK.
The Conservatives helped secure this improvement, and their continuing support will be essential to keeping it in the bill.
Whilst it is a golden opportunity for the UK to lead the rest of the world on climate change, the bill must be strengthened if it is to really make its mark.
Firstly, it is currently proposing to cut emissions by at least 60% by 2050. But scientists, including those who recommended this figure in the first place, now agree that 60% is not enough to avert dangerous climate change.
To do this we need at least an 80% cut in emissions.
Campaigners are calling for aviation emissions to be included in the bill
The bill also excludes emissions from aviation and shipping, which is about as logical as going on a diet and not cutting out chocolate.
These are issues on which NGOs, as well as a host of top scientists, all agree.
Whilst the Liberal Democrats are the only political party that has supported strengthening the bill, we are in a stalemate with the government.
The Conservatives and the government doggedly suggest that emissions reduction targets can be raised once the bill becomes legislation; so the question now is whether David Cameron will grasp this historic moment and get his party to support strengthening the bill as it goes through Parliament.
A bold statement on the environment would appeal to precisely those swing voters that are so needed by any party wanting to stake its claim to the middle ground.
But Mr Cameron appears to have gone decidedly quiet on the environment, perhaps contemplating his next move.
One of the biggest issues politicians need to tackle today is that of trust. A recent ICM poll asked its respondents which party can be trusted to keep its promises.
Some 17% of the respondents said the Conservatives, 17% said Labour and 16% said the Lib Dems. But 58% said "none of them".
If Mr Cameron lives up to his green promises on the Climate Change Bill, maybe he can claim the political ground on the environment - and start to regain some of the electorate's trust in politicians.
David Nussbaum is chief executive of WWF-UK
The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with David Nussbaum? Have the Conservatives gone quiet on climate change? If so, why? Or are they leading the way among the main UK parties? What would you like to see in the final Climate Change Bill?
Dr.M.Pharaoh identifies 'the most important of the World's issues' as 'Poverty. Fiscal Poverty, Energy Poverty and Water Poverty. Only when people have enough to eat and their children are healthy can they actively and successfully protect the environment they live in.'
But the point is that the degradation of their environment is precisely what is perpetuating the poverty of the world's poorest people. We have to enable them to generate energy from renewables such as solar and to conserve water in order to discourage them from cutting down the forests and clearing the land of all combustible vegetation. That way we might help them out of the vicious circle of environmental decline and poverty. If we wait for them first to become rich, we are lost.
Hurricanes are not increasing in frequency or severity at all. I suggest you look at the records.
Also plenty of ice is growing and thickening. Regardless, there hasn't always been ice where there is ice - perhaps we are reaching the point in the cycle where it is time for Greenland to be Green again etc...
Tim Hart, Leeds
I'm not entirely sure we're going to be able to save the planet by cutting emissions anymore, as trying to convince everyone to sign up to something that will, in the short term at least, increase prices is going to prove very difficult. This doesn't mean we should stop trying though, cutting emissions will still minimise the size of any of the major engineering projects (eg. huge mirrors in space) that may need to be instigated to solve the issue, and such vast engineering projects will, inevitably, raise some issues of their own, the larger the project, the larger the potential problems.
Alistair, Durham, UK
When people start using statistics and "findings" it all gets confusing. Like the fact that 127 die every year from falling down staircases and 27 die from knife crime... stats anyone? "Scientific research" anyone? All this talk of "it's not really happening" is just like Chamberlin before the second world war. Even if it isn't going to happen, even if the "scientists" are wrong, just look at the world around you for a minute - you know, the "real" world. Look at the £27bn pound clean up for Nuclear power (yeah, great stuff huh?) It's just common sence to be "green". Our grandparents used to be "Green" before the term was even invented - this was due to lack of resources after the second world war. Resources are a finite thing people - recycling and good management of forests and renewable economies are just clever thinking for the economy. People are like children being told they have to stop eating so much or they will get fat and have health problems in the futur!
e. Even if you don't believe it's happening - you would do well to look at the economic benefits in the long term from being "Green" and stop trying to prove you're right by spouting stats. If you want to find an answer to anything you will find it given enough money research and time - "Green" or "Planet killer" - the truth is we can all have a far better life if we go green/ethical - no pollution causing cars giving us all breathing difficulties, no poor countries full of starving people, less wars over resources - do the math people - use your brains and hearts together - oh, and eat more chocolate please and stop trying to be "right" to make yourselves feel better - stop your internal dialogue, you know it's true.
Climate change does not mean that every single year will be hotter than the last, everywhere. Average temperatures will vary and are related to a huge number of variables including the solar cycle. It does mean that there may be extreme weather events, and in some areas they may be more frequent. In some areas, temperatures rise faster than others. The Artic ice (where temperatures are rising far faster than most places) is undoubtedly melting at a much faster rate than anyone predicted, even the experts. The worst case climate model results which many scientists said was much too extreme, predicted that the artic ice would disintergrate in 2013. It is actually happening this year and may be even worse in 2009! Who knows what impact this will have on ocean currents over the next 50 years as the seas will be absorbing far more energy and warm even faster - positive feedback. There are potential good points though....the northern shipping routes will open up along with v!
ast natural resources of Siberia and Canada. The argument is not black and white but the most important areas of the globe, the ice caps, are warming much faster than we thought.
Andrew, Windsor, UK
M Pharaoh, I'm sure, is not an idiot but he does highlight why it's pointless to argue the science on comment boards. I could point to several predictions and explanations of the current cooling (e.g. Smith et al, 2007, Improved Surface Temperature Prediction for the Coming Decade..).
I agree totally that David Cameron should focus on the issues he mentioned but that means also tackling climate change, environmental degradation and disastrous global market policies and definitely not a continuation of the status quo.
It's also worth pointing out that climate change is not the only 'green' issue that has to be resolved (but probably the highest priority). There's also plummeting biodiversity, population growth, pollution (in the air, soil and water), loss of fertile land, food shortages (land and sea), acidification of the oceans, traffic congestion, resource shortages and lots more. There's a bumpy ride ahead.
R Gross, London
Dear professional contrarions (from both sides of the great GW 'debate'). Ask yourself the simple question - 'What is Science?' Is science about explaining how the natural world works? Are arguements/research published in recognised journals and peer reviewed? Or on web sites that are not independently reviewed but at least support a one sided arguement? Okay I admit it - half truths on the latter and hard science on the former which may or may not stand the test of time and the accumulation of 'knowledge'
As for conspiracies I nearly split my sides laughing - academics/experts have ego's the size of exoplanets - they rarely agree completely on anything (that's why peer review groups are whittled downd to 60 bods and not 2000 with the research coming from 2000 other bods who have carried out independent 'ish' research). Anyway, I think everyone contributing here (even our resident guru Dr Pharaoh) understands resources are finite and our economies are under pinned by natural capital. I'll watch this space though - perhaps 'Dr' Pharaoh can show us how the Science on the first and second laws of thermodynamics are 'crumbling' as well. 'Crumbling' that's a lovely scientific phrase isn't it - must be learnt doing a Phd? Oh yes, Dr Pharaoh, no doubt people said the same at the turn of the 20th century with steam power versus petroleum - face it the economy/technology is changing and there is nothing we can do -well we could start moving towards a low carbon economy or we could !
blame those pesky evil doers and enviro/religo peaceniks while sliding towards global conflict.
Mark N, Chelmsford
Despite claiming a Ph.D., Francis Manns of Toronto seems to be confusing National weather with Global climate and cherry picking local events to argue the case.
Peter Pool, Oxford, England
Yawn yawn yawn, the climate change denyers use an interesting question to peddle their myths. The point they should bear in mind is even if they are right that climate change isnt happening as a result of the massive amount of carbon we are spewing into the atmosphere, we should follow the same policy of moving to a low carbon economy because the era of cheap carbon fuels has run out. There is another tedious argument about peak oil bound up in this, and the point is not that the oil is about to run out, it isnt, but that the era of cheap oil has run out. Given this, we need to radically reduce our demand on non renewable fossil fuels and in the long term move to an economy that is largely non dependent on them
Roger Harmer, Birmingham
Dr.M.Pharaoh - what about habitat destruction, over fishing, species collapse! They are all one and the same of a big problem facing the world as we know it. Are you going to say that the science is crumbling around these? Fact: we can all see what is happening!
Are you seriously suggesting that chopping the Amazon down will have no impact on the climate?
I imagine this is what you tell yourself as you drive around in your Hummer or while eating food from your mahogany table!
Matt, London, UK
Here is something I have never understood. Why is it that free-marketeers invariably - but quite rightly - hate waste (inefficiency) their profit-driven companies, yet so often regard waste (emissions) as an acceptable part of their business activities? Do they not see that the two definitions are the same thing?
I ask this question to encourage the climate-change denying members of this discussion to understand that there is good profitable business to be had in new and efficient technologies. Climate change may or may not be due to mankind's activities, but it is the business philosophy of the madhouse to cling to wasteful practices.
It is also boorish, oafish bad manners - fouling your nest, in effect.
Cameron does not want to scare off this small but electorally important rump of ill-mannered, selfish voters at this stage of the electoral cycle. He also wants to use the current period of hiatus in the Labour party to quietly refine his policies in this area, outside the glare of media scrutiny. Once this process is complete, and poll lead he currently enjoys has a decent momentum he can re-engage the voters with a more finely honed environmental policy, secure in the knowledge that the Tory poll lead is unassailable.
J. Holt,, Herts, UK
"Recently we have been told that there will now be no warming until after 2015." - Mike Owens, York. One study came to that conclusion, and the same study forecast that after 2015 the warming will accelerate more quickly. The conclusions of that study do not contradict the predictions of other scientists other than forecasting that that temperature increases will follow a stepped pattern. You, of course, will know this having read the reports, yet you still come here and post a misrepresentation and distortion of what was contained in that study. Why?
Ian Stuart, Goring
I have read the above story and following comments with interest and would like to make the following observation that the people who have suggested scepticism to Human activity causing climate change have quoted facts and true data, whereas the environmentalists have just spouted opinion, unsubstantiated evidence and scare mongering phrases. It seems to me that soon the intelligent people of this country will realise the errors of the current "climate change" claims and revolt against the way it is being handled and Mr Cameron has seen this and is distancing himself from this incorrect, unfair and damaging policy.
Callan Trump, Cambridge
As soon as people start saying they do or don't 'believe' in something like global warming, the less I'm inclined to 'believe' them. Look at the what the top scientists in this field say. Mitigate against the problem. If the data isn't supported in the long-term, then alter the strategy but not doing something because you 'believe' experts are wrong is simply bad science.
Chris Smillie, Cairo, Egypt
The current attitude to 'environmental' issues is looking to be a death wish for politicians. High taxes and declining quality of life are coming to be associated with 'green' and a revolt is on it's way. If people really want a move away from fossil fuels they need to start finding realistic options that don't just shut down our economy and move all the emmissions to China. Short of suspending democracy you aren't going to get the turkeys to vote for christmas.
It would be good, if as it seems, that David Cameron is able to put his attention onto the most important of the World's issues; Poverty. Fiscal Poverty, Energy Poverty and Water Poverty. Only when people have enough to eat and their children are healthy can they actively and successfully protect the environment they live in.
As for the data. I suggest that checking out the present global temperature from Hadley, MSU troposphere data from RSS, Sea Ice data from Cryosphere today and the present size of the indo-pacific warm pool and pacific oscillation form NASA. Once you have done the statistics on those - call my an idiot!
Dr.M.Pharaoh, Coventry / UK
Steve Bloom, Oakland, California, USA
I don't expect the Tories to be any more effective at averting the coming environmental disaster than New Labour. The truth is that people are more willing to accept arrant nonsense from the likes of Nigel Lawson than from the Govt and that is purely down to a lack of trust (not sure why anyone would trust Lawson though). As long as that trust is missing the voters will not back the essential environmental legislation and nothing will change. I'm not going to argue the science here, it's usually a waste of time, but it's clear there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation and 10 years of spin has left most voters disillusioned, not only in the Govt but in other establishment figures at the precise time that it's critical for our future survival.
R. Gross, London
Dr M Pharaoh has hit some raw nerves. No wonder when he says the IPCC case is crumbling. Personally I do not think there ever was a case. We have had mild global warming last century but non this century. The 2007 IPCC report forgot to mention that and the unverified GCM models which forecast temperature rises for this century on which they rely also got it wrong. Recently we have been told that there will now be no warming until after 2015. How credible is the IPCC?. The old 2000 scientists cannot be wrong argument also does not hold water(it is actually 2500). The science of global warming is considered in IPCC working group I. The numbers of scientist reviewers involved in WG I is actually less than a quarter of the whole, a little over 600 in total. The other 1,900 reviewers assessed the other working group reports. In total, only 62 scientists reviewed the chapter looking at causes of global warming, the critical chapter 9, "Understanding and Attributing Climate Chan!
ge". Of the comments received from the 62 reviewers of this critical chapter, almost 60% of them were rejected by IPCC editors. And of the 62 expert reviewers of this chapter, 55 had serious vested interest, leaving only seven expert reviewers who appear impartial. How do I know this. Because under the US Freedom of Information legislation the UN has released on the Web the comments of reviewers who assessed the drafts of the WG I report and the IPCC editors' responses. Again how credible is the IPCC? David Cameron and all politicians should ask that question themselves and come to their own judgement. I hope that his choice of advisors is more credible than that of the previous government (9 errors Gore, sorry I mean 35 errors Gore). As far as conspiracies go - Al Gore got a Nobel Peace prize. Enough said.
Mike Owens, York
This article really interests me. It tells me more about our leaders and their relationship with the environment.
Sagar Patel, Lexington Park, MD, United States
David Nussbaum is right to challenge David Cameron to refresh and put substance behind his green credentials, particularly in relation to air pollution. Whether David Cameron likes it or not, he will not be able to rely, for up to two years, on being swept into office on a wave of anti-government feeling.
Mr Cameron needs to grasp opportunities to differentiate the Conservatives. One such will arise this week with the entry into force of the new European Union (EU) Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe after four senior Government Ministers successively have refused to commit the Government to comply fully with air quality laws. David Cameron should insist that full compliance with air pollution laws is essential.
David Cameron faces short term risks also. The new Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnston, will need to unveil, in the next few months, a radical environmental agenda to improve London's air quality. If he does not, the first major Conservative administration for a decade will quickly prove itself impotent in the face of political realities. Perhaps of greater personal concern to Mayor Johnston is that the final year of his term of office will be overshadowed by unlimited EU fines against the UK for breaching the new air quality laws in London if he does not act swiftly.
David Cameron should take the initiative therefore on air pollution in the Climate Change Bill, by insisting now on a legally binding 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, to help himself and Boris and the rest of us.
Campaign for Clean Air in London
Simon Birkett, London
The commment made by Dr. Pharaoh concerning the falsehood of global warming is by and large stupid and ignorant. In the last several years hurricanes in the Carribean i.e hurricane Katrina and in the Indian Ocean have increasd in frequency and intensity, temperatures have changed i.e. winters have become significantly warmer to the point that glaciers around the world are almost dissappearing not to mention that the antarctic artic ice sheet have declined also. This will have dissatrous consequences concerning a safe source of water i.e. glaciers for many millions of people.
Both temperatures and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have significantly increased to levels above ancient warming periods. Clearly (to those that can comprehend the simplist of messages) human activity is having a detrimental impact on our environment. I wouldn't claim that the economy is unimportant but to claim that the envnironment is less important than the economy then we may soon not have an economy to speak of as our economy is our environment i.e. natural resoursces. Therefore, if civilisation does not appreciate the importance of the environment to our very existance then we will lose one of the most precious gifts that we have been given.
Risteard Tobin, Cork, Ireland
"National Climate Data Center's recent announcement of the coldest April in more than a decade and the 29th coolest since record keeping began 114 years ago. The average temperature was 1 degree cooler than the average April temperature of the entire 20th century.
A few weeks ago, as North America was emerging from one of its coldest and snowiest winters in decades, the climate center issued a statement saying that snow cover on the Eurasian land mass had been the most extensive ever recorded, and that this March had been only the 63rd warmest since 1895.
On April 24, the World Wildlife Fund published a study, based on September's 2007 data, showing that Arctic ice had shrunk from 13 million square kilometres to just 3 million. What the WWF omitted was that by March the Arctic ice had recovered to 14 million square kilometres and that the ice cover around the Bering Strait and Alaska was at the highest level ever recorded..." -Investor's Business Daily
Francis Manns, Ph.D., Toronto
The recent local election campaigns were, after all, run on a 'vote blue go green' slogan. And Conservative support was key to pushing the Government to accept the very idea of a Climate Bill in the first place.
But the proof of real commitment from the Tories still awaits. Barely a peep has been heard since the John Gummer/Zac Goldsmith Quality of Life report last year with Osbourne insisting that none of its ideas were definitely in or out. Tougher, more contested decisions will have to be made - on green taxes, on greening international aid, on carbon budgets, on coal power. I'm yet to be convinced that the long-term decisions on climate change can be made by the Tories given the lure of short-term political expediency and populism.
Yes, good for David Cameron.We should not pursue the Holy Grail of a low carbon economy until the science is settled as indicated by Nigel Lawson in his book An Appeal to Reason. We are seeing the problems of rushed initiatives with biofuels, eccotowns, onshore windfarms and poor transport taxation at present. If solar cycle 24 is as low as some forecasts suggest the current pause in global temperature rise could continue for several decades allowing time for new technologies to be developed and adaptation measures to be introduced.
Roger Coe, Bromsgrove, Worcs
Climate change is a very real threat to today's society and the society of our children and grandchildren (despite what Dr Pharaoh says). Record floods, temperatures, hurricanes, cyclones and the polar ice caps melting are visible daily reminders that we are living with climate change. I think our politicians, including David Cameron do to some extent acknowledge this. They are however, unprepared to take the necessary draconian measures which are urgently needed to try and prevent further catastrophic and irreversible damage because it will not play well with the electorate or big business in the short term. To make real headway in dealing with the issue it needs to be approached with the same manpower, money and single-minded determination that a war requires. Unfortunately no politician will mobilise to this degree until they are attacked. We can't see the attack coming, because we are the perpetrators.
Charlotte Kelley, Cambridge
Perhaps they've gone quiet about green issues because the limelight has been on other more important issues.
I'm guessing Dr M Pharaoh isn't a doctor of climate science. If he was, maybe he would not be so quick to suggest that the "observations and science are crumbling" as he would surely be aware of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (made up of more than 2000 independent scientists from around the world) which was clear in observing that climate change is both happening and is due to human actions.
As for observations, it's clear that they are becomingever more dire - e.g. that we may have an ice-free Arctic in summer months as early as THIS SUMMER!
Anyone who dismisses climate change as a con is clearly an idiot as they choose to ignore the evidence in favour of groundless conspiracy theories. Let's hope politicians like Cameron continue to show they are above such stupidity and take on the challenge of addressing the problem, rather than ignoring it.
O Gibbons, Dunstable, UK
Green issues will be droped as quick as they were raised. It's whatever the next big thing will come along to secure more votes. Tell the public what they want to hear and don't tell them what they don't want to hear and when they are in power they will pursue what ever there secret agenda was all along.
That Cameron guy probably just realized that being "green" is a great political tool to *talk* about, but that when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, it is unpopular policy. It doesn't pay to "lead the way" based on predictions that are made by academics bent on earning more funding by being progressively more dire. "Oh, sorry, did we say a 60% cut? No, we meant 80%, and when you reach that, we'll revise it to 95%, and then 100%." It's a losing game, and he's smart to pull out.
Chris C, Salt Lake City, USA
Good to see the usual standard of debate being kept up on these comments. 'most of the current green proposal's will make CO2 worse'...which ones? Biofuels, okay some of them might, but solar, wind, wave, CHP, efficiency, greener engines, decentralized generation, vanadium flow batteries. Which?
Also, Dr Pharooah, statements like yours need some qualification. Simply mouthing off that you have uncovered a great conspiracy is not good enough. If you have evidence, the world deserves to hear it.
David Cameron, like all our politicians, is averse to taking hard decisions, and as such will need all the encouragment he can get to introduce serious proposals.
Alasdair Cameron, London/Edinburgh UK
I think it true that GW IS happening - just that the cause is the disputed issue (I do NOT believe the CO2 con). My problem is that all politicians at present seem to target the "End Consumer"; not the corporations causing the problem. Witness the M+S charge for bags; surely all that happens (and it is with me) is that I would have to buy waste paper basket bags instead of re-use; net effect? ZERO. I think most "green taxes" are just pushed for revenue gathering, otherwise they would be ring fenced - wouldn't they? I hope DC is recognising this, and will target new green taxes in the right place; eg: force manufacturers of food to to reduce the "adver-packaging" that creates more containers and wrapping than product just to advertise!
Andy, NH4, Camberley, Surrey
"The observations and science are crumbling" ... and your evidence for this is ?
Dave Morris, Devon
The Tory Mayor has just broken relationships with Venezuela where we were helping them on environmental issues.
Their true colours are blue not green.
Ben L, Bristol
When they trailed in the polls the Conservatives had reason to re-brand and try to broaden their appeal. Now Labour is imploding the Conservatives don't need the green issue in the way they did before. I think Cameron is genuinely concerned about climate change (only a reckless fool wouldn't be - and he is neither a fool nor reckless). However, I'm not sure his concern is shared by rank-and-file members of the Conservative Party who traditionally favour free market solutions and minimal economic regulation. I am therefore a bit concerned about Cameron's ability to do what is necessary. It does surprise me that Cameron and other politicians don't link the climate change issue to the issues of energy security - one issue can easily be pushed onto the back of the other.
Paul A, London
Is it possible that DC has realised that most of the current green proposals will make CO2 emissions worse? Is it possible that he is taking time to think out actions that will be of genuine help? Am I expecting too much from a politician?
Peter Tromans, Terracina, Italy
Good for Cameron. Perhaps is has started to realise that global warming is a con, merely a religious / political quest by people who want influence.
The obervations and science are crumbling,so why destroy the UK economy for nothing.
Dr.M.Pharaoh, Coventry / UK