The Politics of Climate Change
The Tonbridge Talks ‘festival of the environment’ opened on Friday with a panel discussion on the politics of climate change. David Hone, Chief Climate Advisor for Shell, opened up the debate with the disarming admission that humans have left it ‘very late’ to begin tackling the climate emergency. It was his most useful contribution. Less plausibly, he argued that there were great grounds for optimism for humanity, having asserted in the previous sentence that reaching net zero emissions by 2050, recently put into law by the UK government, is an impossibility. He left not long afterwards, halfway through a mumbled answer about ‘technological solutions’ being the answer, a fact disputed by the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
Much more helpful were the contributions of other panel members: Anjuli Pandit (above), UK head of corporate sustainability for BNP Paribas, Gareth Redmond King, Head of Climate Change WWF-UK, and April Clark, Green Party, Tonbridge. Though they spoke from a range of perspectives, there was more convergence in their views than one might have assumed at first sight.
The good news, according to April Clark, is that one quarter of Britons now place environmental issues third in their list of most important concerns, behind only Brexit and health. More sobering is that, based on a show of hands of audience members, a substantial number of people no longer feel that any one party represents their views. While Green Party policies are now being adopted by other parties, to tackle the climate emergency facing us requires action on the part of business and government as well as citizens at the local level.
Anjuli Pandit developed the theme of how business can play its part. After the financial crash of 2008, she said, ‘Corporate finance was basically asking itself if it was still relevant.’ The answer: ‘to work within the social systems that we already have and to move capital around the world from those who have it to those who do not, so that business models can change.’
Of all the panellists, Gareth Redmond King explicitly owned the language of climate emergency from the outset. Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates, we only have a decade, he said, to prevent global heating from exceeding 1.5°. After 2° heating, he said, the effects on our climate and wildlife will become irreversible: ‘And the problem is that we are heading for 3° heating, not 1° or 2°. The political challenge is for all of us, not just for government. Having said that, government needs to play its part. The Conservative Party has just announced £25bn for roads. They need to find that each year to fix this. But we need to play our part, too, as citizens. From eating less meat and making fewer car journeys, to looking at what we are doing to the quality of our soil and changing the look of the countryside. This is going to affect everyone, and we need to act now.’