Colin Challen, MP is not in a particularly optimistic mood.
Speaking at an event in London last night, the Labour backbencher and founding member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change offered the most honest, and therefore pessimistic, assessment of the climate crisis I have ever heard from an elected official.
Unlike many MPs, Challen knows his climate science. He was at the End of the World conference in Copenhagen last month and heard the warnings about rising sea levels and soaring temperatures.
He knows talk of limiting temperature rises to two degrees above pre industrial levels is absurdly optimistic and that there must necessarily be a greater focus on adaptation. He knows that there remains a sizable gap between politicians' rhetoric and action on climate change (a disconnect he traces back to Labour's cataclysmic 1992 election defeat when voters told the party they supported its policies and then went into the polling booth and voted for the Tories in record numbers). And, worryingly, he knows the chances of a successful deal at the UN talks in Copenhagen later this year are vanishingly slim.
A deal will most likely be struck, Challen argues, but it will be fatally flawed by the UN's poor record of enforcement.
This is the elephant in the room at the UN talks. The scary question that looms over all the detailed negotiations is, even if carbon targets are agreed how will be they be enforced? Is any country really going to impose even symbolic sanctions on the US - or China for that matter - if come 2020 they overshoot their emission targets? No, thought not.
So what is to be done?
Challen is not short of ideas. An overhaul of the fiscal regime built around far higher taxes on carbon intensive activities, and clearer and more generous rewards for low carbon behaviour should be first on the agenda. Closely followed by clearer articulation of the threat we all face, better management of the market based mechanisms currently being used to reduced emissions, and increased willingness amongst politicians to address rampant over consumption, perhaps through a shift away from GDP and towards global well-being or happiness indices.
The key question though, is not what should be done, but how should it be done? How do environmentalists and green businesses drive climate change up the agenda of the main political parties and make some of these policies a reality?
The answer, according to Challen, is by taking them over.
He points out that years of centrist policies and falling membership numbers have left all the major parties hollowed out and ripe for a grass roots take over. And it is those who regard the environment as a top political priority who could and should lead that take over.
It sounds like a crazy idea, but with Labour Party membership at 170,000 people there are almost certainly more people signed up to various green groups than there are within the Party of government.
Could they mount a successful takeover? Almost certainly not. But Challen makes a valid point: real change has to be driven from the mainstream and if we want political and business leaders to take climate change seriously engaging with them and making life as difficult for them as possible is the only way to make them realise the true urgency of the threat.
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