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Climate Change: The Campaigning Challenge - Tony Juniper

27 Jan 2006

Climate change has no easy solutions, so please don't judge us by the campaigns of others, says Tony Juniper, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Guardian - Thursday January 26, 2006

Madeleine Bunting gave an accurate impression of the challenge we face in tackling climate change (The boiling point is coming for the fight against climate change, January 16). But I would beg to differ as to whether "outside a few well-informed environmental activists, nobody is much bothered". There has been a huge surge in public awareness of climate change - which has shot up the political and media agenda in the last two years. This is partly because the science has become indisputable, forcing political action. But pressure from green groups and the public has also played an important part.

Raising awareness was just the first step in tackling climate change. If we are going to deal with this problem, awareness must be translated into action, and solutions put in place while there is still time. But promoting solutions is never easy, not least because the media is often reluctant to tell good news.

The challenge posed by climate change is far greater than any other environmental issue. We can't solve it by banning one or two chemicals or with some modest technological innovation. Not only does climate change demand action across the whole economy, it requires controversial policy interventions and changes in our behaviour.

For this reason comparisons with the Make Poverty History campaign can only be limited. Bunting suggests that environmentalists must have found it galling to see thousands of development campaigners on the streets in Edinburgh ahead of the G8. Not at all. Friends of the Earth campaigners were part of the MPH rally, and we attracted huge public support. Most people have no difficulty understanding that climate change is a major barrier to tackling poverty.

But because climate change is directly linked to our own lifestyles, politicians must make tough decisions that will not always be instantly popular. There are powerful vested interests which profit from continued investment in fossil fuels - diminishing oil supplies mean high prices, and big profits for oil companies. Industrial lobbies, in the United States in particular, have been very successful in creating the impression that action on climate change will lead to economic disaster. It won't, but the confusion created by that claim has been effective in stopping progress. So while Bunting is right to highlight the importance of mass mobilisation, it is not always enough to win over the politicians - as anti-war campaigners know full well.

Indeed, tens of thousands of people have demanded action from politicians on this issue, and half of all MPs are now backing Friends of the Earth's The Big Ask campaign, calling for climate change legislation which would commit the government to cut emissions each year.

But emissions in the UK are still on the increase. Time is short and if we are to make the breakthrough towards a low-carbon economy, policies must change. Many of us believe that the public mandate to do that already exists. Politicians have to take responsibility for addressing the big issues. There is no bigger issue than climate change.

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