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Climate for change


While he's in his rough and tough statesman mood perhaps I can offer Tony Blair a phrase to take to the G8 in two weeks - 'don't even think about leaving Gleneagles until you've signed up to Kyoto, George'.

OK. It's not going to happen, I know. Sadly, as I have warned before, achieving the African debt relief deal has used up all his US favours. Besides, given the current war of words in Europe, Bush remains a friend Blair cannot afford to lose.

However, it is reassuring to hear that (climate change and) environment minister Elliot Morley does have public as well as private concern about the US stance.

Speaking to NCE this week, Morley explained that the one thing he wants to bring away from the G8 is the US admission that global warming actually exists.

Quite how much clout this carries is debatable, particluarly when you consider the wider political backdrop to G8.

Yet the very fact that a member of the UK government is talking about confronting Bush over the greatest threat to the planet must be a good thing.

It is a sign, perhaps, that now the 'big' deal has been done on Africa (although, don't get too excited about the impact that £30bn in debts written off over 40 years will really have on the plight of this continent), there is a realistic chance that climate will re-emerge on the political agenda.

After all, if you look at the fi dings of this week's Guardian/ICM poll it is this issue that the British public wants the G8 to focus on.

According to the poll, 89% of people say that they are concerned about the impact of climate change now and in the future. And it reported that 83% believe Tony Blair must use his chairmanship of the G8 summit to challenge Bush over global warming.

So certainly we have the right noises coming from government and we see a clear mandate from the public for Blair to really push Bush and US hard at Gleneagles. Yet I remain unconvinced that any real deals can be struck between the US and the rest of the G8.

That is a shame because the fact is that inter-governmental deals and the budget focus that this creates are the only way that this massive problem will be solved. The public may be concerned but we need globally aligned government strategy before we are galvanised into doing anything.

For example, the Guardian/ ICM poll showed that, while concerned about climate change, a massive 71% of the public had made little or no change to their lifestyle in response.

Even more worrying is the fact that the poll shows that road pricing gets the thumbs down as a means to control car use, as does any additional taxation to curb the growth in air travel. And while wind power is supported, nuclear remains a massive no-no as an alternative to burning fossil fuels.

All of this makes it very hard for the government to tackle the issue and remain popular with the electorate.

But it is here that the engineering profession can help. Not only do we have the solutions but we can also be on hand with the policies and the right presentation that will make tackling climate change important to the public and popular too.

Gleneagles is unlikely to deliver the results we need to combat global warming. But we must ensure that it at least provides the vital starting point for action.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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