One of my favourite subjects at school was geography. I remember learning about acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, and global warming. It wasn’t until I got involved as a Greenpeace activist that it struck me: why hadn’t we sorted the third one out, yet?
The Montreal Protocol signed in 1987 kicked off a successful international push to deal with the hole in the ozone layer. Though the hole remains large because the pollutants are long-lived, we’re broadly on track to fix the problem.
European regulations cut sulphur dioxide emissions from industry by 70 per cent, making huge progress in tackling acid rain. Too many lakes and forests still suffer from acidification, and high levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions from traffic and industry remain a problem, but again we are very much heading in the right direction.
But with global warming (or climate change), global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Europe’s emissions have fallen, but only very slightly, and much of that was ‘achieved’ through exporting our manufacturing to Asia:
Why haven’t we fixed climate change?
You could say – if you were to hugely oversimplify things – that the ozone hole and acid ran were both fixed without fundamentally changing our economic system. We switched from CFCs in fridges, and cleaned up industry’s chimneys, and bob’s your uncle.
But global warming requires that we fundamentally rethink our economy. Both left and right in Britain seek growth through more airports, more roads, more oil and gas extraction. Growth, whether driven forward by unconstrained capitalism or social democracy, comes first, and environmental considerations are an afterthought. Never mind that climate change could do more damage to our GDP than any financial crisis to date! As Jonathan Porritt put it, whether you’re in the left or the right land, you’re still on a motorway heading over a cliff.
Successive Labour, Conservative and Liberal governments have ploughed on with economic strategies of more, more, more. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are constantly undermined by their desire to build roads and frack the countryside, their failure to insulate homes and decarbonise our energy production.
Those parties may not deny the science of climate change, but their actions speak louder than words, of climate change denial in practice.
I’ve been cheered by recent announcements from Ed Miliband who – I believe – understands climate change better than most of his colleagues. There can be no doubt that a British government led by Miliband would do far more in the 2015 Paris climate talks than one led by Cameron. But climate change remains a low priority, an afterthought even, for the Labour Party as a whole.
Not so for the Green Party
On the Saturday at our spring conference in Liverpool I joined hundreds of Parliamentary candidates and party members in this photo-shoot to coincide with a large march through central London.
You can just spot me standing to the right of our party leader, Natalie Bennett:
Unlike the other political parties, the Green Party begins with climate change. It’s an assumption, built into everything we do, like equality. We would never promote a policy that might increase greenhouse gas emissions, just as we would never promote a policy that would make economic or racial inequality worse.
Time again, I have seen that without a Green in the room it just isn’t raised. For example, in the fourteen years before Jenny Jones became chair of the London Assembly Economy Committee, the economic consequences of climate change were never properly discussed in that committee.
Climate change is also a priority, one high enough to require that photo-shoot, and to be the subject of an entire speech by one of our deputy leaders, Shahrar Ali:
The Green Party offers the leadership on climate change that Shahrar speaks about.
If you marched on Saturday; if you shout angrily at the radio everytime they discuss a boom on the oil industry without mentioning climate change; if you want an MP like Caroline Lucas willing to put her liberty on the line to take a stand against fracking; then vote for a party that takes climate change seriously.
If you want real leadership on climate change, vote Green Party on the 7th May.