Call that green, Darling?

Politicians need to raise their game if the people of Bangladesh are going to avoid a watery fate...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This week a report from Greenpeace said that large parts of South Asia could be underwater by the end of the century, thanks to rising sea levels brought about by climate change. So the eventual cost of us spewing out more greenhouse gases could be that 75m Bangladeshis end up homeless.

Ever since Gordon Brown commissioned Sir Nicholas Stern to investigate the economics of climate change, the Government has spent a lot of time boasting about its green credentials. But has it actually done anything to help? Take Alistair Darling’s Budget earlier this month – it was billed as a ‘green budget’, but it looked suspiciously like he was using the environment as a handy justification for tax hikes, while failing miserably to address the real issues. For example, there was a tax on gas-guzzlers but no increase in fuel duty – so presumably the focus can’t be on total carbon emissions after all?

Richard Clarke, a director of consultant Arthur D. Little’s Sustainability and Risk Practice, admits that the Budget was ‘a few shades lighter than many expected’, but points out that (like most British businesses) the Chancellor’s hands were tied. ‘Long-term sustainability plans are more difficult to introduce and implement in the face of short-term financial pressures’. It’s a bit hard to increase fuel prices when you’re worried about spiralling inflation, for instance.

A lot of Darling’s announcements seemed to be about further consultation projects – for example, on whether the government should raise its carbon emissions reduction target  from 60 to 80 per cent by 2050. This sounds like a waste of time to us (who exactly is going to advise against that?) but Clarke argues that it at least sends a clear message to business: 'Regulation of environmental impact is the way we do business in the UK now, so get on board'.

But with the goalposts shifting all the time, it’s not easy for businesses to develop a sensible environmental strategy for dealing with all this. On the other hand, they can’t just ignore it. As Clarke says: ‘The green agenda is becoming everyone's agenda – for government, but even more obviously, for industry.”

One thing’s for sure: it’ll take more than a charge on gas-guzzlers to save Bangladesh’s millions. Not to mention Alistair Darling’s political career...

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