No Second Chance on Climate Change

David has hit out at doubters who say climate change is not proven.

Speaking at a Friends of the Earth meeting Newcastle, he said there would be no second chance if the doubters are wrong.

The event was held in St Thomas' Church Newcastle on 30th September on the subject of 'Climate Change' under the FoE "Big Ask" theme. The Bishop of Newcastle was the other principle speaker.

David's speech:

I was pleased to be asked to speak today on what is the most terrifyingly important issue facing the world.

Forget 'will the future be Gordon?' - the real question is 'will there be a future at all'.

We're meeting here in Newcastle, a stone's throw from some of the most beautiful architecture in Britain, buildings designed and built by people who believed - rightly - that they were creating something for future generations.

Sadly, I think we seem to have lost sight of that sense of holding something in trust for future generations, which is perhaps why we are in the predicament we are about climate change. The arguments for the reality of climate change are well-rehearsed, evident in the - albeit short - warm summer we have just had, the increasing numbers and severity of hurricanes and other extreme weather conditions, the earlier springs, the warmer winters, the melting ice caps,

the movement of insect and other species of flora and fauna further north etc.

And the worrying speed at which concentrations of greenhouse gases are rising in the atmosphere.

There are those of course who say it is all a myth. That the fact that we are seeing the fastest rising global temperature since records began is meaningless, given that records have only been kept for 300 years and the earth is millions of years old. They can come up with compelling arguments to disprove the climate change theory and say that there is no need for dramatic action. Not surprisingly they are usually backed by big business like Exxon and seek to sow doubt in the minds of the public. Well, I say to those who might doubt the reality of global warming 'if in doubt, err on the side of caution. There will be no second chance if we are right and you are wrong'.

And here in the North East - the one time centre of 'carboniferous capitalism' as someone put it at last weeks launch of the Association of North East Councils 2006/07 manifesto - we have our part to play. And I was pleased to see in that manifesto the 25 North East local authorities pledging themselves to play their part.

Now, I am not here to represent the government. But, let me quickly run through the Government line.

There are Targets - we have timetables and targets set by Kyoto and endorsed by Montreal.

This Labour government introduced the Climate Change Levy and the Renewable Energy programme - both opposed by pre-Cameron Tories incidentally.

Thanks to measures like the Levy, the UK has already exceeded the Kyoto target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels by the year 2012, one of only 3 countries in Europe to meet its targets.

The government also chose to adopt a national goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2012 and the Prime Minister announced a new , and as he put it, 'ambitious' target at the Labour Party conference; to reduce emissions by 60% by the year 2050.

There is also a target for 10% of electricity to be supplied by renewables by 2010, with an aspiration to double that by 2020.

Environment Secretary David Milliband said last week in Gateshead that the 4 tonnes of carbon emissions each of us is responsible for annually has to be brought down to 1 tonne. And the 10 tonnes a year each household produces has to come down to two.

All commendable measures and aspirations, but time is not on our side and more urgency is called for.

And, right on cue, David Milliband announced this week that a new department has been set up - the 'Office of Climate Change' to co-ordinate climate change activity across government.

But, of course, climate change recognises no national boundaries.

And crucially, there is little sign that countries like India and China, with their fast growing economies, are keen to join the post-Kyoto party. Just metres away from us today is Primark, extremely popular with local people for selling clothing at amazingly cheap prices. But that clothing tends to be manufactured in such countries, providing employment, relieving poverty and encouraging growth in the economies of those countries, but also adding to carbon emissions by the production process and the transport costs.

And at this week's Labour conference Bill Clinton referred to the huge impact policies in these countries could have on the world's climate.

But, as he acknowledges, it is difficult to argue the case with such countries when the United States, responsible for between one quarter and one fifth of global emissions, is still sitting, a party pooper, on the sidelines.

So, whatever we might think about the performance of our own government, and no matter how good we are at doing our bit here in the UK, without international agreements and serious action by developed and emerging economies alike the problem cannot be resolved.

And it is not just governments that need to be convinced. People need to be convinced and take their own actions, as well as putting pressure on their governments.

We're meeting here today as part of the Friends of the Earth 'Big Ask' campaign.

But, with the greatest respect, the title is wrong - it shouldn't be the 'Big Ask'; it should be the 'Big Action'. The slogan should be 'What do we want? - Big Action - When do we want it? NOW! Such is the urgency of the situation.

Our energy demands - as opposed to needs perhaps - continue to grow, here in the UK as well as globally.

The first steps in tackling climate change therefore have to be energy efficiency and energy conservation, waste management and waste avoidance. In government, in industry and in the home.

Greater research into geothermal energy sources, argued to be a huge natural source of energy as yet unexploited in the UK to any significant degree should be taken more seriously than it currently is.

The energy that we as individuals consume - in electricity, gas and transport - makes up almost half (44% to be precise) of total emissions.

So, whilst targets are good, the truth is that we have enough of them. What we need now is action and I truly believe that, finally, the man on the top of the Clapham omnibus realises that too, and that he cannot leave this to governments alone.

The truth of that comes from a reliable source. I recently visited Tesco in Gateshead to see for myself how the store's plans for recycling bags was coming along and they also pointed out the measures they have put in place to reduce their own energy consumption.

This follows a similar visit to B&Q in Scotswood a month or so ago to see the efforts they are making to reduce the use of plastic bags and sponsor environmentally friendly projects.

Now, as altruistic as these big companies undoubtedly like to be, they would not be taking action unless they thought it was good for business and popular with their customers. The fact that they believe that taking such actions improves their image with the general public is surely the best indication that the public are concerned about the issue and want something done about it.

The trouble is that too often people want somebody else to do something about it - like governments and big business - and don't seriously think about what they themselves can do.

Blaming the government for just about everything has become a fashionable pastime but so far as climate change is concerned the old slogan 'not me gov.' - or in this case 'not me government' is not good enough - we each of us have to play our part as individuals.

I suppose it could be said that our friend on the Clapham omnibus is already playing his part by leaving his car in the garage and using public transport. But is he also turning his TV and video off rather than leaving them on standby?

Is he turning down his central heating just a couple of degrees? Is he recycling as much household waste as he could? Is he re-using store carrier bags? These are small steps that we can all take to help slow down climate change.

There are bigger steps - hybrid cars instead of petrol or diesel engines, bio fuels; wind turbines, installing solar panels and cavity wall insulation.

And frankly there are hard choices to be made too.

A pop up appeared on my computer the other day advertising 10 days holiday in some exotic location, all inclusive, for around £300.

A fantastic deal for someone - but think of the carbon and nitrogen emissions generated by the air travel; the additional human waste generated from all the tourists who flock to exotic hide-aways seeking peace and tranquillity.

Anyone who has flown recently will have spotted the element of taxation included in the price. Many will have baulked at it. There are those who think we should be reviewing the so-called Green Taxes. Certainly taxes are more than a source of revenue for a government, they can also be used to discourage or reward certain behaviour.

Indeed, there are those who would argue that taxes can be a justifiable limitation on freedoms because they encourage responsible behaviour - in other words, my freedom to drive where I please, or to jet off to an exotic location impacts upon the freedom of generations yet to come.

But there are limits to what can be done by elected governments - because they have to get elected to be the government in order to change anything. Democracy itself can be an obstacle to progress.

It would be a brave politician who sought election on the basis of punitive taxation on holidays and travel, but possibly a mad one who sought election on the basis of ending high street cheap clothing.

And it would be a strange thing for democrats to argue that the will of the people should be ignored - even if it is for their own good.

Thankfully, as I have said, people are now beginning to see that something must be done - and accept that this may well mean changes to their own lives and lifestyles.

But they need not necessarily be punitive changes and they need not necessarily be overly restrictive.

I believe that it is not beyond the capabilities of modern science and co-operating governments to tackle this problem in ways that can protect freedom to travel and extend it to others, that can preserve quality of life and enhance life expectancy, that can lead us to the healthier and safer environment we all want.

That is the challenge.

We all have a part to play in meeting it.

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