Earlier this year, Stephen Hale – head of the UK’s Green Alliance network of companies and NGOs – left for a new life in Geneva working for Oxfam International. His parting shot was a pamphlet called The New Commandments of Climate Change Strategy: How to cut emissions and win elections too. We think that it’s very good, and didn’t get enough attention at the time, so we’re urging people to go back and have another look.
This slightly Biblical-sounding pamphlet (is Stephen casting himself as the Moses of climate policy?) looking at what governments should do is a follow-up to his 2008 New Politics of Climate Change, which looks at what civil society should do.
Both start with an excellent diagnosis of the political barriers at the heart of climate policy. The New Commandments is of course post-Copenhagen, and so starts with the need for a “fundamental reappraisal” in its wake, to recognise that too much hope was invested in global processes, and to realise that “the real challenge is implementation, not negotiation”. (Some of us were actually saying that well before Copenhagen, but were dismissed by the same climate “big beasts” and funders who thought then that the science and marginal abatement cost curves would swing it, and who are now equally sure that they know what to do. But that’s another blog post).
Like an increasing number of people post-Copenhagen, Hale argues that we now need to look to policies and action at the national level in developed countries to make a global agreement effective. But for this to happen, two things are needed – first, a coherent mitigation strategy (“Too many ministers and officials are working long hours on new initiatives without clear strategic framework for action” – Stephen should know about this as an ex-adviser to several British ministers), and second, “far deeper political support for action that will make these strategies politically sustainable”. For as he says in the conclusion, “Climate policy is intrinsically political, with potentially significant and controversial impacts on markets, vested interests and individuals.”
What’s really nice about the pamphlet is that it has that all-too-rare quality that the recommendations (or “commandments” in this case!) do actually follow on from the analysis. Particularly important, in our view, is getting the politics right (or at least better) on national action, where his proposals include a good narrative and some real action on climate-related jobs and investments; some early wins that cut costs, especially on energy efficiency, and finding the losers and helping them, which will include not only poor households but also energy intensive high-carbon industries.
He also has sensible things to say on how governments need to be more joined up (both across departmental silos and across different levels – national, regional and local), and on how we should be using regulation more and relying less exclusively on market-based mechanisms , like cap-and-trade schemes.
Finally, we agree with Stephen when he says that, although the centre-left in the developed world has so far tended to show more concern and commitment to action on climate, they have not so far been very successful (and actually some argue that by framing that commitment in terms of climate change they have lost votes).
A lot of what is in The New Commandments has been or is being said by others (including us), but it brings it all together in a clear, accessible and above all succinct way, just right for the minister or special adviser to read in a quiet moment. I wonder how many have?