As the credit crunch bit, there was a danger of a very bad ‘either-or’ situation developing – either we sort the global economic crisis, or we save the planet, but we can’t do both.
To be fair both to Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, they have not lost sight of the importance of the green agenda amid the inevitable focus on the scale of economic carnage wreaked by the banking crisis.
Inevitably, and rightly, the big figures on borrowing and debt, the new top rate of tax, and the prospect of future spending cuts grabbed most of the attention after Alistair Darling’s Budget. But amid it all there were several important steps, and important signals of leadership, on the environment agenda; among them the ‘carbon budget’ and the new limits on geeenhouse gas emissions, additional funding for energy efficiency as part of the economic stimulus, which should help with jobs as well as reducing energy costs, more on renewables. And whilst most people may put fuel duty down in the ‘taxes up, hit on business’ category, some may shift them to the ‘green agenda’ side of the ledger.
Then yesterday – and further proof that if politicians set out the scale of a problem, take time to listen to arguments, and then make bold steps to meet the problem, they can win difficult debates – the pledge from Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband that no new coal-fired power plants will be built without the guarantee of capturing and burying 25per cent of emissions now, and 100 percent by 2025.
It won’t be enough for some in the environment debate, but it was a big step in the right direction which, in this ever more interconnected world of ours, will lead to change elsewhere. There is a lot of technological work to be done before we can be sure of the objectives of this announcement being met. But if they are, and the technology can be made to help other countries too, this will have significance way beyond the UK.
As ever with serious, difficult government policy, there are competing demands going on here – economic, industrial, environmental, energy security. The fact that Ed managed to get a broad welcome from some of the environmental pressure groups and some of the energy companies suggests he is on the right track. That track has a long way to run, but sometimes the sign posts at big political moments – which the Budget was – can be as important as the steps of detail that will follow.
I don ‘t imagine Ed came into politics to lead demonstrations in the chant of ‘what do we want?- clean coal – when do we want it? – now’ but that’s where he is at.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the land of competing priorities, inspectors from the International Olympic Committee have been reviewing preparations for London 2012 and have gone away ‘deeply impressed,’ saying that they are close to giving a mark of ‘ten out of ten’ for the way things are going.
Needless to say, some have been out with another either-or question – either we sort the econoic crisis, or we have the Games, we can’t do both. Nonsense.
The Games will be great for London, and for Britain. Particularly given the tougher times ahead, they can become not just a celebration of sport, but a symbol of recovery too.
I confess to being a bit down after the Budget. Not for nothing, I guess, is a grim economic situation described as a ‘depression’. But thanks to the immediate signal of continued commitment to the green agenda, the news that the Olympics remain on track, a nice dinner last night to celebrate my old boss and current diaries editor Bill Hagerty’s 70th birthday, another nice sunny day, another big game tomorrow, and the insight that David Cameron is going to have to do better than say he will fill the black hole by chopping a few quangoes, I feel a bit better today.