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Will Boris duck the climate debate?

The suggestion today that Boris Johnson may not take part in a Channel 4 debate on climate change is disappointing.   The climate crisis is by far the most pressing of issues.  It is right that it should feature prominently in the general election.

Voters need to know where party leaders stand, and what they propose to do about climate change and their strategies need to be scrutinised.   It is also possible that through debate the lines of agreement can be drawn where action can be taken in the event of a hung parliament.  

This August,  climate campaigner Greta Thunberg called on politicians to 'listen to the science.'  What she meant, of course, was that they should stop ignoring it and start acting on it.  She was addressing climate denial, particularly amongst Republicans in the United States.

Politicians have a tendency to want science that tells them what they want to hear.  But science cannot tell us how to live our lives. It can, of course, inform our decisions.

One thing Boris Johnson will be concerned about is that the Tory record is not a good one.  He has more to lose in taking part in a televised debate.

One simple question would create difficulties for him: what would he say to all the leading climate scientists and government advisors who have condemned the Tory government's record?

No doubt, he would bluster and talk of the billions he now proposes to invest.  But it is all too little and too late, even if it was the right way to go.

The other parties have set out their stalls.  But we need more than simplistic rhetoric.  The problems are deeper than the superficial planting of more trees.

Current world trade is driving emissions and harming our planet's defences against global warming.

What then would the parties do to change world trade?

We are losing precious rainforest at an alarming rate.  This is driven by our insatiable consumerism and it is the product of so-called economic growth.

What then will the parties do to encourage us to change our consumer habits?

In the twentieth century 'growth' has become the answer to everything - growth, growth, and more growth, without concern about the consequences.

Politicians to the easy economic option: we could 'grow' ourselves out of trouble.  Economic growth has become the yardstick by which politicians are judged, and growth, not equality in distribution, became the objective, and this is one reason we have increasing inequality.

What then do our party leaders propose to do about that?

We simply must stop this.  Growing ourselves out of trouble is causing more trouble. Growth is killing the planet.

Climate science demonstrates is that we cannot go on living the way we do while ignoring the consequences to the environment.  Our activity has a major impact on climate change and in the destruction of vital habitats.   The world risks moving into organ failure, as the planet ecosystem is chronically damaged.  Far from living with our planet, we are ravaging it.

Science is not a miracle worker.  Only our decisions will make a difference. 

We should be wary of politicians paying lip-service to the 'climate emergency'.  Effective change will come at a price.  Setting targets for reducing emissions is the easy part.  So if the party leaders make it sound simple and without effect on us all, then something isn't quite right about what they propose.

As one of the worlds biggest world economies, what Britain does has a great impact.  We must be prepared to tackle the causes of climate change and environmental damage.

Nothing will work unless we tackle world trade and the consumerism that drives it.  Politicians will need to be brave enough to change our consumption and the trade that feeds it.  This will require unpopular decisions.

We should not have cheap goods the production and transit of which damages the planet.  That is what our politicians should be telling us, and it is what we should wish to hear.

Trade must be environmentally regulated, and 'free' global capitalism must be constrained.  Currently, 'free' means 'freedom to exploit' or plunder the world's resources.

  Trade has become a monster eating at the heart of the planet.

Buying and selling emissions won't cut emissions.  We must dispense with the notion that emissions can be 'offset' simply by paying a bit extra or planting some trees.  It can't.  It simply transfers the problem.  You cannot offset the destruction of our rainforests and other precious habitats by planting trees in the UK.

This is why we should be wary of simplistic soundbites to see who can make the boldest pledges.  We should look at the detail of what is proposed to achieve them.

"Targets are simply paying lip-service to the problem."

It would be easy enough to assume that with enough investment science can come up with a technological fix for climate change.  Politicians would like it because it would mean that they won't have to tell us what we don't want to hear: that we can't go on living the way we do.  But a 'green deal' with massive investment in 'green' technology may not be enough.

"We can't go on living the way we do"

 Global trade and our insatiable appetite are destroying the planet.  A technological fix is unlikely to work unless it reduces our appetite for goods.

We cannot go on exploiting the earth without an account of the damage it is doing.  Trying to meet the same level of consumerism but with 'green' technology probably won't work, or at least not quickly enough.  We need to alter what we consume, how and where it is produced.

It is estimated that at least one-quarter of all that is produced in the world is exported.  The production chains for these goods and services are now increasingly complex and global.  Some 30% of the value of production involves imported goods.  A commodity produced in one country will have parts imported from many others in a complex supply chain.

"We need to alter what we consume, how and where it is produced."  

This supply chain is a feature of production in the European Union, as it is worldwide.  Modern cars, for example, are combinations of parts and systems manufactured by companies across Europe and bolted together in the final assembly plants that produce a finished product.  This means a given part might cross borders several times in transit of components and systems.   For car manufacturing, at least 75% of 'added value' is provided by such components. 

If there is a theory behind globalisation it is that countries specialise in what they are relatively more efficient at producing.  What determines that 'efficiency' is the global market place.  The carbon cost of that 'efficiency' isn't incorporated.

An example is the manufacture of steel products.

In two years, China has manufactured more steel than Britain has done in all the time since the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1870.    Over a twenty-year period, China ramped up its steel production.  The dumping of this huge quantity of steel in the global market has pushed the price down so that British steel can no longer be manufactured at a competitive rate.

This matters because it means that production is no longer localised.  Over one-third of global emissions associated with steel production are embodied in international trade. 

"The world’s consumption of iron and steel drives around 6% of global GHG emissions. New consumption-based approaches are required to help ensure an anticipated doubling in consumption by 2050 is compatible with tackling climate change." (The Carbon Trust)

In the 1970s, 300,000 people were employed in UK steel production.  Today, that figure is just 30,000.  Of course, production is leaner and fitter.  More can be produced by fewer people.  Nonetheless, it does reflect a sobering fact.   We should be concerned about where our steel comes from and how it is produced. 

"Global demand for steel drives significant inter-regional flows of carbon embodied in steel" (The Carbon Trust)
These are some of the issues that should be addressed in the Leaders election debate.  Let's hope Tory leader, Boris Johnson, takes part.  But we might see an empty chair.  Given the seriousness of climate change, voters should judge him harshly if he fails to appear. 


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