Tuesday, 22 December 2009


There was a terrible irony in the fact that the recent cold snap came over the weekend that the Copenhagen climate conference ended in failure.

The anger that many people, including me, felt when the world’s leaders failed to reach a legally binding agreement was totally justified. At the level of the negotiations, the fault did not lie with the developed nations. The EU made a reasonable offer, Barack Obama took America further than it had ever gone before, and even Gordon Brown pushed for a deal harder than his more climatically telegenic predecessor ever did.

But we would be fooling ourselves if we swallowed our own propaganda that the fault lay entirely with the developing nations. And the cold snap showed us up.

Somehow we can’t accept that the weather sometimes slows us down. We have to do everything just as normal, so we get out our snow ploughs, we crank up the heating, we drive on icy roads causing accidents and dramatically increasing our fuel consumption.

Some of that can be justified, especially for emergency service workers, and for those making sure more vulnerable members of society can survive. But how many shops had their doors wide open in sub-zero temperatures? It would be easier to say how many hadn’t. And why was all the grit used first for roads and only afterwards - if at all - for pavements? Clearly motorists are more important than pedestrians.

I went to my daughter’s school play. It was about climate change awareness, and was exemplary in the message it promoted. Then, when it was all over, two doors – one on either side of the hall – were wedged open and the hall’s warmth was crushed by an invasion of freezing cold air. After that message!

It reminds me of that comical scene at the start of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The priest is locked in his church, the loo is out of bounds and he’s desperate for a leak, so he drinks a bottle of wine so he can pee into the empty bottle, only to find that the wine provides a new call of nature. Our modern lifestyle has created pressures on our climate that are leading to extreme weather conditions, yet our response is a course of action that uses more energy and emits more climate changing gases!

Set against this background, is it any wonder the developing nations are suspicious about our willingness to address our lifestyle in a way that will seriously reduce climate emissions? They don’t want to forego their material prosperity while we’re still unwilling to compromise on ours – and frankly, why should they? Yet we need countries like China, India and Brazil to cut down on their emissions, or there’s no chance of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius.

That’s why the 10:10 campaign has caught the spirit of the times. It’s far from perfect, but it says ‘We must do something now’ and calls on people to reduce their own personal greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 by 10%. I have signed up to it, and I hope you can too.

Because without some major gesture, there is no way we are going to get the developing nations to make the concessions needed for the world to have a truly meaningful, legally binding climate agreement.