A brave new world

When a UN body of scientific experts swiftly named the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wins a high-profile and very visible award like the Nobel Peace Prize, you know that something is changing.
Environmental issues are no longer confined to the minimalist rooms of die-hard green evangelists, but have entered public consciousness in a way that would have been unimaginable even a few months ago.
Politicians – especially those who don’t have an actual country to run – have been quick to jump on the bandwagon and embrace the new battle. Al Gore, to his credit, did so earlier than most and has received due recognition by sharing the Nobel prize with the IPCC.
Translating aspirations into workable policies remains however a major challenge. The EU’s goal of generating 20 per cent of the bloc’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 – one of the bloc’s key commitments aimed at making a significant cut in greehouse gas emissions possible – is a good example of that.
Finding a formula for member states’ contribution to reaching the target that will satisfy them all is proving a tough task. As a result, the climate change and renewable energy package, originally due in early December, crucially ahead of international climate negotiations in Bali, has now been delayed to some time in the new year.
Meanwhile French president Nicolas Sarkozy has very publicly undergone a “green transformation”. Flanked by newly crowned Nobel winner Al Gore, Mr Sarkozy has pledged to make his own the environmental aspirations of his fellow countrymen as they emerged from an extensive, year-long consultation.
The policies France is looking to introduce range from a freeze on road and airport expansion to waste minimisation and a halving of pesticide use. A carbon tax has also been mooted, but may meet significant resistance in Brussels.
Well-intentioned as it may be, Mr Sarkozy’s “green revolution” will not be easy to achieve. Only days before his speech, an authoritative report revealed that France is on course to miss its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2050.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Sarkozy’s promised new course will turn the tide enough to meet that ambitious target.
On the other side of the Channel, the UK government has pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 – short of the French goal and of an 80 per cent target preferred by environmentalists.
Prime minister Gordon Brown insists his government is devoted to the environmental cause, but a document leaked to the press earlier in October advised the cabinet to resist the EU’s 20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target. Britain’s current share of renewables is only 2 per cent, against for example Germany’s 9 per cent.
Politicians need support to survive. They also need consensus if they are to carry through any new policy. But faced with growing demands and limited resources, they are becoming increasingly aware that the rules of the game may be changing. In our new climate-conscious world, the winners may be those who dare to choose the less-trodden path of visionary leadership over the shortsighted quest for all-round support.

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