Politicians, be careful what you wish for

20th Feb 2017


I am passionate in wanting the UK to meet its climate change obligations – I voted for the 2008 Climate Change Act and I’ve seen first-hand the impact of climate-related catastrophes both here in the UK and amongst the world’s most vulnerable people. I don’t want to risk putting our obligation in jeopardy.

But I do have concerns about how we get to the target and how much it will cost to do so. It’s not because I’m against a particular route or technology, it’s simply because I don’t want a backlash against carbon reduction if it becomes a public concern. I’ve seen the UK march to “Make Poverty History” to then see international aid becoming someone else’s problem. So the risk is always there and we can’t take public support for granted.

So when I heard a leader of local government this week, supported by Mayoral wannabes, commit to 100 per cent decarbonisation by 2050 part of me winced. I understand why politicians make these promises, and frankly, they won’t be there in 2050 to be held to account, however, I do wonder if they know what they are saying. My immediate reaction to these commitments was “how?”

If decarbonisation could happen overnight, at little or no cost, then it would be done. Of that, there is no doubt. But the politicians making this promise, not to enact an international treaty but because they think it popular, have yet to tell their electors how it will be done and what the costs might be. And that lack of engagement with the public is a serious problem. The arguments about pathways to decarbonise occur precisely because of the costs involved. And the sums are huge, running into hundreds of billions of £s, but the public simply don’t know this. When they do, prepare for the backlash. It won’t be pretty and the most vulnerable to climate change will end up suffering the greatest. Collectively, we can’t let that happen.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE