Brown talks green as climate climbs political agenda

Gordon Brown spoke extensively about the "threat to our planet from climate change" in his much-awaited Labour conference speech and called for international action, but met with criticism for failing to mention what the UK could contribute to the effort.

Having covered economic growth, job creation and equal opportunities in what some commentators have called the most important speech of his career, the man most likely to replace Tony Blair moved on to “challenges and threats” for Britian and the world – terrorism, global economic competition, and climate change.

Concentrating on international political action to avert global warming, he said: “I know too that governments across the world have been too slow to recognise the threat of climate change.

“And I don’t want our children to say to us: ‘You knew what needed to be done, you had the political power but you lacked the political will’.”

Climate change mitigation should not become an excuse for a “new environmental colonialism sheltering an unsustainable prosperity at the expense of the poor,” he added.

In anticipation of the publication of the Stern review of the economics of climate change expected in the coming days, the Chancellor said he would call for more international co-operation and announce a new “environmental transformation fund” along with incentives and investment.

He also pointed to the environmental sector as offering the biggest potential for employment market growth.

“Because I believe the greatest expansion in new jobs can come form the environment, David Miliband, John Prescott and I will publish proposals this autumn showing how environmental care and job creation advance together: from energy saving, innovation and green technologies, at least 100,000 new jobs for British people,” he said.

But environmental groups and rival political parties have questioned Gordon Brown’s green credentials, welcoming the recognition of climate as an important policy issue but complaining about the lack of urgency and commitment to action on a national level.

The speech “did little to indicate that Government action to cut UK carbon dioxide emissions would be a priority,” said Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper.

“The Chancellor’s recognition that faster international action is needed on climate change is welcome. But he must show genuine global leadership on this issue by backing tough measures to make the UK a low-carbon economy.

Insisting on the introduction of a climate change law with commitments to annual emission cuts in the Queen’s speech could be one way of showing such leadership, FoE said.

Critics also pointed Gordon Brown’s failure to demonstrate his environmental commitment in his role as Chancellor so far – green taxes fell from 9.3% of total taxes to 8.3% during his time in office, according to FoE.

Their comments were echoed by the Liberal Democrats environment spokesman Chris Huhne, who said that Gordon Brown has “zero credibility” on climate change:

“His policy is an ecological disaster area having cut green taxes by 20 per cent since 1999, having axed key research into the effect of climate change on our plants and wildlife, and having even cut flood defences that are vital to protect us against storms and rising sea levels.”

Meanwhile two days before the Labour Party conference opened in Manchester, climate was top of the agenda for the British foreign secretary in her speech to the UN.

Margaret Beckett devoted half of her speech last Friday to climate change – much more than she afforded to the terrorism threat and security issues. Climate change would undermine the quest for political stability on a global scale by aggravating poverty and inequality, she said:

“If we do not act now, an unstable climate will undermine our progress in all those areas that matter to us.”

“We must recognise that talk of having either a successful economy or a stable climate is a false choice,” she said.

Goska Romanowicz

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