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Talk is cheap, Mr Blair


This week was described by Tony Blair as a 'potentially crucial week' to build the foundations of a global response to climate change. Did you notice anything- I suspect probably not.

The so-called G20 meeting of key developed and developing nations was intended to continue the vital global challenge to tackle climate change started by the G8 in Gleneagles in the summer.

And it comes, of course, ahead of the United Nations' two week summit in Montreal just before Christmas. This will discuss post-2012 Kyoto policies and decide whether or not new carbon reduction targets should or could be adopted.

'We need to see how the existing energy technologies we have such as wind, solar and - yes - nuclear, together with new technologies such as fuel cells and carbon capture and storage, can generate the low carbon power the world needs, ' Blair said on Monday.

So if success was measured by good intention and hours of talk, we should certainly be making huge in-roads into tackling climate change.

Sadly, that is not the case.

As Blair will be acutely aware, each of these summits represents the opportunity to lay some very serious foundations for policies to save the planet.

Yet, as he continues to discover, actually leaving them with real commitments and actions is increasingly difficult.

How, for example, faced with the UK's own dismal performance on carbon emission reduction, can he seriously preach about the need for China and India to curb carbon emissions in their rapidly expanding economies?

How can he sit alongside George Bush and convince the developing nations to effectively do as I say, not as I do?

Sadly, once again, we see the gulf that exists between the aspiration of tackling climate change and the reality. While the need to do something is stark, long-term benefit to the planet comes with a high short term political cost.

Certainly we can talk about cleaner power generation and about new technologies to capture and store CO 2. We can talk about funding and assistance to help developing economies. We can even talk about the real economics of nuclear power.

But ultimately, when it comes to global agreements, we will always have to skirt around the key issue of targets for emissions and efficiency improvement. And if the US economy is unable to handle them, why expect China's to?

Something new, something radical is needed. While talking about this very important issue at this high level is essential - and here Blair does deserve credit for elevating the issue - he really must transfer his well meant aspirations into real policies and decisions at home.

For Tony Blair to convince developing nations to curb their greenhouse gas emissions he will need first to set the example. He must start at home and convince the UK that it is an important issue.

He must take action to cut our carbon emissions. A nuclear generation solution may seem an attractive CO 2 reduction option on a UK scale but expand that solution across China, India and the entire developing world and it starts to look less and less attractive.

We need to help these nations to help control climate change. Finding the sustainable alternatives to burning cheap coal must be our priority - and the civil engineering profession should help take a lead.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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