The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric

(First published at

The Miliband brothers both claim to be ‘green-leaning’ candidates, and this is part of what helps them to appear modern and progressive.

But the reality, given their actions when leading various government departments, is that their rhetoric masks a lot of inaction.

1. That effort is being successfully conducted if emissions are going down. But most people don’t realise that our Co2 emissions are still going up.

A key reason is that the Milibands, David and DEFRA and Ed at DECC, have repeatedly suggested that Britain’s CO2 emissions are going down.

2. David Miliband has often claimed that the UK has achieved major cuts in greenhouse gases since 1990. He sometimes says Britain is on course to achieve 25% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2012. But the figures that Miliband and his successors at DEFRA/DECC (including most notably Ed) are using leave out embodied energy, the inclusion of which would make it very clear that this cannot be so.
Even on the most generous figures available to govt (not only excluding embodied energy but also international transport), CO2 has more or less flatlined since 1997, rising in recent years, and thus showing an overall small rise. It is only slightly (a few percentage points) below 1990 (Kyoto baseline) levels. When those factors are included, then there has been little or no reduction even since 1990, and a significant increase since 1997.

3. There has been and remains a further systematic under-estimation of Britain’s contribution to CO2 emissions from air travel, because only aircraft taking off from Britain are counted. That sounds reasonable, until one notices that almost 70% of the passengers taking off and landing in Britain are Britons. DEFRA/DECC ought to be attributing 70% – not 50% – of the emissions of planes taking off from and landing in Britain to the UK. Between 1990 and 2003, estimated CO2 emissions from aviation rose by 90%, a staggering increase.

4. Furthermore, the government statistics do not take into account most of the effects of ‘radiative forcing’ – the increased global heating effect of emissions at high altitude, with the cocktail of gases and water vapour that planes emit.
To be fair to the Milibands, they both pushed for transport to be included in Copenhagen and in the EU ETS.

But this doesn’t excuse their not having acknowledged the realities bullet-pointed above, which were repeatedly pointed out to the Milibands during their time in office, by Monbiot, by myself, and by others.

If the Milibands wish to be seen as ‘green-leaning’ Labour-leadership candidates, then surely they ought to repair their rhetoric on emissions, and concede that the reality is that the Labour government did not reduce climate-dangerous emissions, but in fact saw them increase.

And that the party needs to do a lot more to deal with the problem of man-made climate change.

2 thoughts on “The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric”

  1. I think the problem with the Green agenda is that it costs money and it is that which prevented the Labour government from doing more. I think the debate needs to be framed more in terms of a green programme creating reasonably well paid jobs in the public and private sector. That is where the debate needs to go. I think the green debate has to be framed in terms of job creation. That is the only way that the Green agenda will become a powerful mainstream force.

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