Two statements, one in Washington and the other in Stansted, yesterday restated the gap between rhetoric on climate change and doing something about it. President Bush issued a vague call for 15 nations to agree targets by 2008 for cutting greenhouse gases but categorically rejected a binding treaty. In any case, America has still not signed up to the 1997 Kyoto protocol! In Stansted, campaigner Paul Stinchcombe, said: "Global warming is a threat of such gravity that we must make decisions now to dramatically reduce emissions, not increase them incrementally."
Apart from his mate Tony Blair, Bush’s hot air didn’t impress anyone. Pressure groups who concentrate on getting governments to take action on climate change were scathing. "This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the president's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G8 summit," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust in America. "After sitting out talks on global warming for years, the Bush administration doesn't have very much credibility with other governments on the issue," Clapp added. Tony Juniper, head of Friends of the Earth, said: "This is a deliberate and carefully crafted attempt to derail any prospect of a climate change agreement (at the G8 summit). "The prospects of him getting this to some form of conclusion in 18 months are extremely slim. Basically we should see this as a delaying tactic to keep the climate change issue off his back in terms of any real decisions until he leaves office (in early 2009)."
Meanwhile, the public gallery at Endeavour House at Stansted was packed for yesterday's opening day of the public inquiry into the Essex airport's future. British Airport Authority, which owns the airport, is appealing against a decision by Uttlesford District Council to refuse permission to expand the airport. Michael Humphries QC, representing BAA, said that the plans, which would increase the number of passengers using the airport from 25 million to 35 million a year and the number of journeys from 241,000 a year to 264,000 a year, were in line with government policy. He cited the recent New Labour white paper on transport, which identified an "urgent need" for extra runway capacity in the South-east. So much for this government’s commitment to fighting climate change.
Thomas Hill, QC, representing the council, said that there were 3,700 listed buildings and 75 conservation areas in Uttlesford, as well as the 1,000-year-old Hatfield Forest. He accused BAA of being "in denial" about the environmental impact of its plans. Another organisation in denial is the GMB trade union. It is supporting the appeal on the grounds that the expansion would create 5,000 new jobs. Just like Bush and Blair, the GMB leaders are opposed to any measures that might threaten the capitalist mantra of economic growth at all costs.
So who is going to take action on climate change? Not the G8 leaders meeting in Germany next week, nor the corporations that are painting themselves green while continuing to plunder and pollute the planet. Stansted is only one of many examples in Britain and around the world where people are prepared to challenge corporate power and greed. Transforming these actions into a movement that has as its aim the creation of democratically-controlled, not-for-profit production and distribution systems is the next challenge.
Paul Feldman, communications editor