Home » Interview: Caroline Lucas at The French National Assembly, Paris, COP21

Interview: Caroline Lucas at The French National Assembly, Paris, COP21

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Nick Breeze

Climate journalist and host of Shaping The Future podcast.

Nick Breeze: Every climate scientist I interview at this COP is saying they do not believe we can keep temperatures below 2ºC when policymakers are still building power stations and engines that burn fossil fuel. Is there a huge disconnect between the politics and the reality of what is going on in the climate?

Caroline Lucas: There is huge disconnect between what is going on with the politics and then the science and what is actually required. I must admit I find it quite extraordinary when you hear policymakers say ‘we can’t stay below 2 degrees, if we try and do that it is going to stop our economies growing’. There are some scientific realities here, we have a planet of finite resources, we have an atmosphere that can only absorb a certain amount of greenhouse gases, without triggering climate catastrophe.

We have to get our realities realigned and the reality we need to be looking at is the scientific reality and then we work out how we share out in an equitable way, the emissions that that allows us, really keeping in mind as well, that the poorest countries really need to have the most emissions room.

Nick Breeze: Agreements being made here are not being called a “protocol” which implies they are binding, instead they seem to be just “agreements” that we hope will be honoured. What are your views on this?

Caroline Lucas: I think it is a great shame that we don’t have a stronger indication yet that this is going to be a binding protocol, that is obviously what we need. I guess we can take some comfort, perhaps, from something Obama said in recent days that maybe certain aspects of the agreement could be binding. So, for example, he was talking about the so called “ratchet mechanism”, the thing that will allow us to review progress every five years. That process of review could be binding. That’s something but obviously the process would be so much stronger if it was binding, if it was mandatory.

Nick Breeze: Can we really expect an end to the era of fossil fuels when, for example, the UK Government is cutting incentives towards renewables and the new Canadian Climate Minister states the tar sands are important for the Canadian economy?

Caroline Lucas: I think what we are witnessing right now is the last death throws, I hope of a fossil fuel industry that is lobby governments like mad because they can see the writing on the wall. I do believe it is possible to get away from fossil fuels. We didn’t end the stone age because we ran out of stones, we worked out better ways of doing things. I am fairly confident that if the political will is there and if that means there is enough public pressure on politicians as well, of course we could get to 100% renewables by 2050. But we need the political will and that is what this process is all about.

Nick Breeze: As a British politician, what message that you are bringing to this COP?

Caroline Lucas: As a British politician, to be honest, my biggest focus is on trying to make sure the British government is leading the way by its actions and not just by its words. I must admit that I a bit disappointed that at the same time David Cameron is using warm words in Paris, back at home, he is taking a wrecking ball to green policy.

He is slashing support for renewables, he is building an illegal obligation to maximise the economic return of fossil fuels. What could be more perverse than that? So I recognise we have a job of work domestically to make sure our leaders are actually delivering on the ground, what they might be pledging here in Paris.

But where I take some comfort is that I think, actually, in many senses, quite a lot of businesses are ahead of where the politicians are. I think, as I say, there is this battle going on as people try to get used to the new reality.

Of course there will be some fossil fuel companies with big fossil fuel interests who are going to be lobbying until the very last gasp. But I do sense we are the cusp of a different kind of energy future and I do hope that Paris will play its part in that.

Nick Breeze: Politics can really incentivise business by legislating in the right way. Do you think that is starting to happen now, especially on an international level?

Caroline Lucas: I think increasingly, businesses are lobbying on an international level, they are coming together and just really pleading with politicians, saying, “we just want a level playing field, we want certainty, we want to know what the green policies are going to be, so that we can adapt and I think what’s been so frustrating, going back to the situation in the UK, is that policy and especially climate policy and environmental policy seems to change on a weekly basis, so it is incredibly difficult to make investment decisions for companies, so I think, as I say, that if the political will were there, just to set the direction of travel and to stop giving mixed messages like suddenly deciding to lock in 35 years of nuclear power at the same time as we are supposed to be

Nick Breeze: If we do not take the appropriate action now, it is likely to be last political “bite of the cherry”, this is saying to millions of people in poorer and vulnerable regions, “We are sorry, we can change our lifestyles, you will have to die?” What are your views on the morality of this position that is very much the current status quo?

Caroline Lucas: I think there really is a moral dimension to the climate debate and it just strikes me particularly in the aftermath, after the Paris terrorist attacks, those terrible attacks, David Cameron, back home in the UK, has strongly been saying we have a moral responsibility to stand by France and, in his view, take steps to bring air strikes over Syria, now it just interests me that he can see the moral imperative there, I might disagree with him about the action that he takes, but I agree there is a moral imperative to do something about the Syria crisis, but why isn’t that same moral imperative there when we are talking about people dying, not through terrorism but through climate related disasters that we are implicated in. We are complicit in that if we do not change the way we produce and consume.

So it seems to me there is a strong moral argument here and there is also a strong moral inconsistency between the kinds of arguments political leaders are bringing to bear when it comes to making the argument for airstrikes over Syria, let’s say, and that same moral argument is not there when it comes to reducing our climate emissions.

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