How green is Blair’s legacy?

As Tony Blair looks forward to retiring to the back benches, green campaigners and politicians have lashed out at the legacy he leaves behind, but has his reign been as bad for the environment as they would have us believe?

Of course, there have been failures. The UK’s carbon emissions are higher now than they were when Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 and the number of flights being taken by Britons has rocketed.

Greenpeace has criticised Blair for pushing for a new generation of nuclear power plants while failing to show sustained commitment to renewable energy and argues that despite talking the talk on climate change action has been weak.

The Green Party has also attacked the departing PM.

“Far from seizing the initiative on climate change, and responding to public demand for action on this issue, he has presided over rising emissions,” said Dr Derek Wall, one of the party’s principle speakers.

“In the future, this will be remembered as his biggest failure. Iraq was – and still is – a travesty, but the effects of inaction on climate change will be felt for millennia to come.”

Siân Berry, the Green’s other principle speaker, criticised Blair’s performance on transport, pointing to the Government’s £30bn road building plan and failure to grasp the nettle of aviation.

The legacy of a waste policy which favours incineration will also leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some environmentalists.

“On the ground in Britain, there are now more incinerators than there were in 1997, as the Blair government refused to adopt a policy of reduce, re-use and recycle, preferring instead to burn more rubbish than ever,” said Ms Berry.

But despite the criticism of Blair’s political enemies, progress has made on the environment in some areas.

And if Blair must accept responsibility for presiding over a decade of rising emissions, he should surely be allowed some of the credit for environmental improvements elsewhere.

Air quality has, by and large, improved while rivers and bathing water are the cleanest on record.

The draft Climate Change Bill may have been criticised for not going far enough and failing to set year on year targets, but it did make Britain the first country to put forward legally binding national carbon cuts.

His championing the need to reduce emissions and, at times, almost evangelical warnings about the potential severity of climate change have undeniably raised awareness of the issue around the world and forced it up the political agenda.

It has been joked that Blair’s legacy can be summed up in two words – David Cameron.

But Cameron and his contemporaries do represent a new wave of politicians who appear to be environmentally aware, or at least aware of the electorate’s growing love affair with green issues.

Perhaps Blair will be remembered as the Prime Minister who promised much and delivered less, and not just on climate change, but his legacy is a new generation of politicians snapping at the heels of the old guard keen to show their environmental credentials and promising a greener Britain.

Sam Bond

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