Climate emergency: The wrong measure
In the week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the rapidly closing window to protect our lives and lifestyles from global warming, there was an insight into UK government thinking on how to measure progress.
The insight was a discussion on the BBC’s Question Time programme, nowadays a great way of witnessing the gap between the views of a government and its people. Among those on the panel were the otherwise credible Andrew Murrison MP, representing the government, and journalist Fraser Nelson, editor of the right-of-centre magazine The Spectator.
The question was on government progress on net zero. Murrison and Nelson reached a kind of shared position that progress was broadly okay, because we were among the leading global actors when compared to other progressive economies.
The problem I have is that this is like imagining a 100m hurdles race, where part way in we’re among the leaders, others have fallen, the race is slow and the finishing line looks wildly out of sight.
But maybe it’s fine. In 30 years’ time, the government’s apologists might feel good standing knee deep in rising sea waters wiping their fevered brows and waving a flag that says “Well, we did more than our competitors!”
The same approach to comparative measuring is applied when organisations gift another large pay rise to already wealthy men instead of focusing on the sustainability of the business, or comparing the quality of one school against others rather than helping all young people to achieve their potential.
As we enter the early stages of election fever in the UK, the politicians know what needs to happen around climate. They also know what the people want, and want to hear. The challenge is aligning them.
As Jean-Claude Juncker, former president of the European Commission, said: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.” And maybe that’s the key measure the government should be judging itself against – building the public will to act.
Chair, Corporate Culture Group