As scientific certainty on climate change has solidified, the political will to act has fallen away.
Well we can’t say we weren’t warned.
The long-awaited UN climate report revealed that scientists are now as convinced that humans are causing climate disruption as they are that smoking causes cancer.
Ice sheets are losing mass, glaciers are shrinking and the permafrost is thawing in the northern hemisphere.
Extreme weather events are forecast to become much more common, with more frequent and violent storms and significant sea level rises.
Unless ambitious action is taken to cut emissions, temperatures are set to rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century – and they’ll soar further still if we do nothing.
But as scientific certainty on climate change has solidified – and the need for urgent measures to slash emissions has increased – the political will to act has fallen away.
The passing of the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008 was something of a high watermark, not least because it had overwhelming support from the three main parties. But since the coalition government came to power, green policies have been steadily unravelling.
A refusal to include a 2030 decarbonisation target for the power sector in the Energy Bill, tax breaks for oil and shale gas development, increasing attacks on on-shore wind farms: these are hardly the policies of a government resolutely determined to overcome the challenges of the climate threat we face.
Of course there are difficult choices to be made – no-one is pretending that decarbonising the economy will be easy. But it must be done and there are huge opportunities too.
The UK has one of the world’s best renewable energy resources in Europe. Harnessing the huge potential of solar, wind and marine power could provide us with abundant clean energy – and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the process.
Energy efficiency is a huge opportunity too. It’s crazy that people are spending a fortune trying to keep warm in buildings that leak heat; warming the planet instead of themselves. UK households waste £1.8bn a year due to the lack of insulation, yet the Government’s flagship energy saving scheme, the Green Deal, has only been taken up by a dozen homes.
The dire warnings in the IPCC’s latest report must spark the government into action. It must amend its Energy Bill to include the all-important clean power target. Money must also be diverted from carbon trading that’s currently filling George Osborne’s coffers into a massive, job-creating programme to insulate our homes, bringing relief to many hard-pressed households.
The Labour party’s annual conference gave some cause for hope.
The price freeze on energy bills has grabbed the headlines but Ed Miliband’s speech also recognised the need to rapidly end the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels – which have rocketed in price in recent years and are the main reason for soaring fuel bills.
Labour must hammer home the need to decarbonise the UK economy at every turn, highlighting the huge economic benefits such a move would make. His whole team must make it a priority to challenge the coalition’s anti-green agenda – there are certainly plenty of opportunities – and become the greenest opposition ever.
David Cameron, who not so long ago urged ‘vote blue, go green’ must stand up to the short-sighted anti-environmentalists in his party. The prime minister knows the threat climate change poses to the UK and wider world, why isn’t he doing more to fight it?
The Liberal Democrats must up their act too. Selling their green principles for a 5p bag charge is pretty poor fare. Nick Clegg must do much better – starting by allowing Lib Dem peers to vote for a decarbonisation target when the Energy Bill is debated in the Lords in the next few weeks.
As Davis Cameron said in 2006, Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the world and we must have a much greater sense of urgency about tackling it.
Faced with overwhelming scientific evidence, our politicians can’t continue to stand idly by while the world goes spinning towards climate catastrophe.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.