Spread the love

By Paul Homewood

The disappointment of Alok Sharma over the outcome of the climate change summit in Glasgow that he chaired exemplified the political difficulties it has stored up for the Government. The final communiqué removed a commitment to eradicate fossil fuels from the world’s energy mix. An original proposal to “phase out” coal was replaced with the less dramatic pledge to “phase down”. This amendment was made at the insistence of India backed by China, the world’s two largest coal users.

Mr Sharma’s subsequent apology for the way the summit had ended was aimed at the delegates who had spent the past fortnight seeking to find a way to keep the world’s temperature rise no higher than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Leaving aside whether any communiqué could so precisely calibrate the temperature of the planet, this deal has potentially serious domestic political implications.

The UK has committed unilaterally to a zero carbon future by 2050 at the latest that will have a major impact on the lives of everyone. Given the scientific consensus that action to reduce CO2 is urgent and existential, people in this country are willing to play their part. But when they see the biggest polluters are not prepared to do the same, or not to the same extent, they will start to question the Government’s approach more critically.

Mr Sharma denied the Glasgow pact represented failure and Boris Johnson called it a “big step forward”. A path to limiting the predicted warming to 1.5C is still discernible, they believe, though that will require countries to come forward with binding action plans and everyone understands the resistance of countries like India which consider it unjust that they should miss out on the advantages of cheap fossil fuel-based energy that richer countries enjoyed.

But people in the UK will ask why they should give up coal, gas and oil when this country’s contribution makes up only one per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions. The argument that we should set an example only holds if others follow it.

The big domestic quandary arising from Glasgow is whether Britain’s expedited decarbonisation policy makes any political or economic sense when those responsible for the majority of emissions reject binding caps. As we move forward towards unfeasibly early target dates of 2030 and 2035 for beginning to phase out gas and petrol (coal has almost gone already) these questions will become ever more urgent.



NOVEMBER 15, 2021