It has become fashionable, especially in right wing circles, to be sceptical about climate change. When leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia cast doubt on the integrity of some of the world’s leading experts on the subject, those who question the science of climate change couldn’t believe their luck. It provided what looked like compelling evidence in support of their theory that it is all a global conspiracy to peddle expensive green technology and impose hair shirt policies on the West.
‘Climategate’ involved around a thousand emails sent or received by Professor Phil Jones, Director of the CRU. His department’s databases on global temperatures have played a crucial role in building the case that climate change is happening and is likely to get worse. The messages appeared to show that Jones and some of his colleagues had crossed the line from objective research into active campaigning.
But after the fuss died down Jones was largely exonerated by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee whose inquiry into the affair found no evidence that he deliberately withheld or manipulated data to argue the case that climate change is real and influenced by human activity.
But the damage was already done. For the first time since the early 1990s, being a climate change sceptic is fashionable again. It didn’t help that Europe endured the coldest winter for 31 years. Similarly much of the United States also experienced unusually cold weather. Not surprisingly, less attention was paid by the sceptics and most of the tabloid media to the exceptionally hot and dry conditions in other parts of the world such as Australia. No wonder mocking climate change is now the new cool.
There are many who are sceptical of the case in our own party as well. But I long ago became convinced of the case that the climate is changing, and changing because of human activity – since the days when I was appointed Environment Minister by John Major, and through my days as shadow environment secretary until 2005.
My belief in the case has inspired me to write a book, published today by the Tory Reform Group. In Green Gold: the case for raising our game on climate change I urge David Cameron to fulfil the promise he showed early in his leadership when he went sledding on the Norwegian glacier and urged us to “vote blue, go green”.
We must take radical steps and go further than the promising references to the environment in the Coalition Agreement. We must do more to cut emissions, and even introduce new regulation to do so - even if this is counterintuitive to many Conservatives.
Otherwise we could be left behind by larger nations such as China, which is actually moving faster than most Western countries to decarbonise its own high growth economy. The danger is that we wake up in ten years and find that suddenly China is hawkish about the need for tougher limits on global emissions and for faster action to cut them.
One innovative way to engage the public’s attention and to encourage individual action would be the introduction of personal carbon trading. This concept was examined in 2008 by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, whose report concluded that it had considerable merit and recommended the establishment of a pilot project.