Friday, November 03, 2006

The Stern Report

It's been a few days now since the Stern Report was launched, and the terms of the whole green debate have changed.

The Stern Report was commisioned by Gordon Brown in the summer of 2005 after the Gleneagles summit (at a point when David Cameron still believed in the Tory manifesto he had just crafted for the general election) - the reason being that while the govt had set Africa and climate change as the main topics of discussion at the summit, nothing got achieved on the climate change front due to obstruction from the Americans. As the Economist put it, the report was more about politics than about economics—specifically, the politics of getting America involved in the global effort to mitigate climate change.

By focusing for the first time on the economic consequences of not tackling climate change, Stern appears to have gone some way to achieving his objective. The report was covered in the Washington Post, the White House issued a press statement saying they welcomed it, and partisans got stuck in, the Daily Kos in favour, and the editorial in the New York Sun, predictably against. Australia (who haven't signed the Kyoto protocol) also covered it in some detail - ABC news had a piece on it, and the Australian Labor party also waded in (they support Kyoto).

Everyone responded pretty much as expected - apart from the Tories. They seem to have forgotton their "Green Tory" theme from their conference (it seems an age ago doesn't it?) and reverted to type. Tory supporters and activists loudly denounced the science and rejected having to pay any green tax on websites like the BBC's Have your say .

On the Newsnight debate on the Stern Report, they were represented by that old warrior Nigel Lawson, who immediately expressed doubt that climate change was taking place at all and claimed that all the green taxes to date had made no difference to people's behaviour (untrue - the volume of petrol consumed in Britain hasn't grown since the 70's despite the population increasing sharply, thanks to fuel tax incentivising the car manufacturers to concentrate on smaller cars and fuel efficient technology).

Conservative Home gave prominent position to Lawson's subsequent sceptical speech on climate change to the Centre for Policy Studies. It was as though the whole "Green Tory" business had never happened. And this despite the Stern Report being welcomed by the CBI and other business groups.

Why put Lawson up for the Newsnight debate - why not a Cameroon, like Zac Goldsmith (why has Goldsmith been so silent on this subject)? And if Lawson is now setting the terms of the Tory climate response so sceptically, what happens to Goldsmith's report when it is published? (And is it any point in him publishing, can he do a better job than Stern given that he lacks Stern's economic credentials?) Cameron having his chauffeur following his bike may be a metaphor for their entire green project.

What happens next? The government will press ahead with nuclear power for energy security reasons, as well as climate ones - Goldsmith is known to be against nuclear; should be fun to see the Tory response! The government is seeking to put climate change on the EU's agenda during the German presidency, which begins in January 2007, with a view to getting a pan European deal on flights - possibly VAT on airline fuel, or an airline tax). The EU is pretty good on climate - carbon-trading was pioneered by the EU and the summit held in the first half of 2003 yielded the Biofuels Directive, which meant that from 2005 the petrol you buy is cut with ethanol (2%), and diesel is cut with bio-diesel, and from 2010, it will be 5.75% - given the volumes consumed across the EU, it's a pretty big substitution. An attempt will also be made to get Son of Kyoto started to get a new international agreement.

One thing is for sure - the green agenda is now firmly back under Labour control, and others will have to respond to us. The Lib Dems will bleat about nuclear (as will Goldsmith), other Tories will bleat about green taxes and they will confusedly alternate from climate change scepticism (Lawson) to claiming they are Green Tories (Cameron). And David Cameron may have to resort to making a trip to Antartica to hug a penguin to counter scepticism about whether he really is green.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing is for sure - the green agenda is now firmly back under Labour control.