Proper climate leadership requires more than opportunistic statements

Ed Miliband attempts to position himself as a leader on climate change with this article in the Independent, published to coincide with the Lima climate talks.

It’s ironic that he derides David Cameron for being merely “fashionable” in this field when his statement itself seems opportunistically timed and phrased to address a recent surge in support for the Green Party.

But that’s not the biggest problem. If he wants his Labour Party to lead on climate change, he needs to get up to speed with the latest scientific thinking.

First, reducing net emissions to zero by the “latter half of this century” is way too vague. We need to be more explicit regarding that target (25 years max, probably even less) to avoid fatal consequences. Even if we reach zero net emissions within this timeframe, it’s no longer sure we could prevent temperatures from rising by no more than “just” 2 degrees (and 2 degrees, when it happens, will create a lot more misery than any politician is brave enough to admit).

Second, nothing in his statement shows that he understands how such a target should be reached. He’s keen to jump on the green technology bandwagon, saying that he’d make Britain a global leader, but the truth is that advances in green tech and increased adoption of those solutions by themselves do not secure an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, we’ve been seeing the opposite – an increase in global emissions despite a rise in sustainable energy production, as we continue to find more reasons to burn available fossil fuels at the same time (read this for the full story).

The only serious solution is to stop burning fossil fuels altogether (along with said advances in green technology). This is a vastly different reality to the one painted by our obfuscating policymakers. Creating this shift in thinking will require true leadership, because it means that as a global community we have to decide to leave most of what is left of a commercially valuable resource in the ground – untouched and unburnt.

It means that all of us (especially those of us living in the developed world) will need to make some serious changes to our lifestyles. All of these changes will be for the personal and societal good, but they will require effort and short-term sacrifice. A leader on this issue needs to be spelling this out; he or she needs to stand up to some incredibly powerful vested corporate interests and their lobbyists who, left unchallenged, will continue with their relentless and self-serving mission until every last ounce of known & yet-to-be-discovered fossil-fuel reserves is burnt out. No amount of green technology adoption can neutralise the catastrophic climate change that will ensue if that happens.

These are the messages you need to deliver if you want to lead on this issue. But instead, we see your party supporting fracking and airport expansion. We see no serious plan to wean us off fossil fuels urgently and permanently.

Sorry Ed, but you’ve got to do better than that if you want my vote.