Blair unfit to lead Europe on climate change

Tony Blair has always been flaky on climate change. His period in office coincided with runaway emissions growth in the UK. In 2004, officials were obliged to cover up his anti-Kyoto Protocol views which slipped out during the genial launch of the Clinton Foundation.

He was at it again last week, in China of all places, where he was quoted by the Guardian as saying:

If we get an agreement at the end of this year that sets the world on a new path, without us getting obsessed by precise percentages in each areas, then I think we will find that progress in science and technology accelerates….

That could have been scripted by the Chinese as the price for an image-boosting audience with prime minister Wen Jiabao. But why did Blair dig an even bigger hole in a BBC interview….

If you tell people that the answer to climate change is that you don’t get on an aeroplane, or get into a motor-car, you’re just going to lose that argument….

Can this be the manifesto of the prospective leader of the European Union in climate negotiations from 2010?

I can only surmise that Blair is talking over the head of the European green movement in order to placate Angela Merkel who is said to be a stumbling block to his presidential ambitions. She often conducts rearguard defence of the German car industry against EU proposals to reduce emissions.

Let’s try to understand Blair’s political pragmatism. As the acknowledged champion of winning over British voters, he’s saying in his interview that “people in the modern world” won’t change their behaviour in a context of pain and sacrifice. They must be led gently to the water’s edge or, in his words, “consume differently.”

The flaw for me is that the former prime minister sees the world as a capsule of urban middle class car owners. He’s advocating long term policy for this constituency without reference to what’s happening now on the other side of the tracks.

Last week there wasn’t far to look. I’ve reached the stage where I hesitate to open articles about the droughts in Kenya and India for fear of what news these worsening tragedies will bring.

Nearly 4 million people need food aid as the Kenyan rains have failed. Half of India’s districts are affected by the non-performing monsoon; that’s hundreds of millions of “people in the modern world” struggling to grow or buy food.

How can Tony Blair reconcile a philosophy of no sacrifice for western consumers with the sacrifices imposed on the poor by the impact of climate change? how much worse does climate breakdown have to get before he changes his mind? And will his vision of low carbon economics take effect before we reach that threshold?

I don’t see how these questions can be answered without a framework of quantifiable emissions targets. Which brings us back to the looming failure of the Copenhagen conference. Tony Blair’s intervention in China has been unhelpful to say the least.

President of Europe? No thanks.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

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