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Good signals on coal and the Olympics

Posted on 24 April 2009 | 10:04am

As the credit crunch bit, there was a danger of a very bad ‘either-or’ situation developing – either we sort the global economic crisis, or we save the planet, but we can’t do both.

To be fair both to Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, they have not lost sight of the importance of the green agenda amid the inevitable focus on the scale of economic carnage wreaked by the banking crisis.

Inevitably, and rightly, the big figures on borrowing and debt, the new top rate of tax, and the prospect of future spending cuts grabbed most of the attention after Alistair Darling’s Budget. But amid it all there were several important steps, and important signals of leadership, on the environment agenda; among them the ‘carbon budget’ and the new limits on geeenhouse gas emissions, additional funding for energy efficiency as part of the economic stimulus, which should help with jobs as well as reducing energy costs, more on renewables. And whilst most people may put fuel duty down in the ‘taxes up, hit on business’ category, some may shift them to the ‘green agenda’ side of the ledger.

Then yesterday – and further proof that if politicians set out the scale of a problem, take time to listen to arguments, and then make bold steps to meet the problem, they can win difficult debates – the pledge from Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband that no new coal-fired power plants will be built without the guarantee of capturing and burying 25per cent of emissions now, and 100 percent by 2025.

It won’t be enough for some in the environment debate, but it was a big step in the right direction which, in this ever more interconnected world of ours, will lead to change elsewhere. There is a lot of technological work to be done before we can be sure of the objectives of this announcement being met. But if they are, and the technology can be made to help other countries too, this will have significance way beyond the UK.

As ever with serious, difficult government policy, there are competing demands going on here – economic, industrial, environmental, energy security. The fact that Ed managed to get a broad welcome from some of the environmental pressure groups and some of the energy companies suggests he is on the right track. That track has a long way to run, but sometimes the sign posts at big political moments – which the Budget was – can be as important as the steps of detail that will follow.

I don ‘t imagine Ed came into politics to lead demonstrations in the chant of ‘what do we want?- clean coal – when do we want it? – now’ but that’s where he is at.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the land of competing priorities, inspectors from the International Olympic Committee have been reviewing preparations for London 2012 and have gone away ‘deeply impressed,’ saying that they are close to giving a mark of ‘ten out of ten’ for the way things are going.

Needless to say, some have been out with another either-or question – either we sort the econoic crisis, or we have the Games, we can’t do both. Nonsense.

The Games will be great for London, and for Britain. Particularly given the tougher times ahead, they can become not just a celebration of sport, but a symbol of recovery too.

I confess to being a bit down after the Budget. Not for nothing, I guess, is a grim economic situation described as a ‘depression’. But thanks to the immediate signal of continued commitment to the green agenda, the news that the Olympics remain on track, a nice dinner last night to celebrate my old boss and current diaries editor Bill Hagerty’s 70th birthday, another nice sunny day, another big game tomorrow, and the insight that David Cameron is going to have to do better than say he will fill the black hole by chopping a few quangoes, I feel a bit better today.

  • Allan Macrae

    The worry must surely be that the commitments won’t be followed through with the hard cash because the figures are so bad. It is hard to get your head round just how much debt we are talking about. Yes it is important the government keeps showing willing on green but I would not want to be in their shoes with all the problems they face

  • Margy Steele

    For years we have had politicians competing on saying where they will spend money. Now they have to spell out where they will cut. Cameron just couldn’t answer questions about this on the media this morning. At least the Lib Dems have been open about some of the big ticket projects they would cut, but then I suppose they know they won’t have to follow through. But I think the credit crunch and this Budget have transformed the terms of political discourse. I kind of feel anything could happen at the next election now.

  • Alan Quinn

    It appears Ed Milliband must have been reading your blog Ally as it was one of my points raised on here. There is a massive export potential if the UK can manufacture kits that could be fitted to coal fired power stations abroad.
    Domestically we have the the bonus of the North Sea oil and gas fields where the C02 can be stored as well as forcing out the remainder of the gas and oil.
    We have hundreds of years of coal here which along with renewables can give us the energy security we need.
    How about giving the go ahead for the Severn Barrage Ed?

    On the Olympics I can’t disagree with you more Ally, it’s a London centric games which many in the north can’t be arsed about. The equestrian events for the Chinses games were held in Hong Kong which is over 1500Km from Beijing, my point being there is nothing for the rest of the UK.
    It shouldn’t be forgotten that after the Pickets Lock fiasco (the aborted International Athletics bid) and the botched attempt to cheat the Germans out of their world cup bid in 2006 that British sport was in the mire.
    Then came Manchester’s magnificent Commonwealth games in 2002 which established our sporting credentials.
    Our thanks for this from Seb Coe and the cockney alliance? A football semi final at Old Trafford. (I could also go on about how the cockneys stole Manchester’s winning bid for the English National Football Stadium in 1995, but that’s for another day).
    We also have the grotesque fact that commemorative cups for the games have been ordered from China whilst we have redundancies in the Potteries at our factories. Would that happen in France if Paris had won?
    So the cockney games can be left to drown in jellied eels and pie and mash as far as I’m concerned.

  • Al Rhodes

    Alastair – please could you do the Party a favour and and bend a few of the prominent ears you have access to. The Tories and their supporters are winning all the arguments – even though their arguments are facile. Accidently saw Starkey run away with the show on Q time last night – showed the Labour rep up badly, which is pathetic as Starkey was talking rubbish yet the crowd lapped it all up. Maybe someone with more political nous copuld have confronted him and other Tories – all you have to say is that they are Conservatives, thereby do not ideologically believe in social democracy, as the Burkeian/ancien regimist Starkey et al do not, and game, popularity contest and election is won. Easy. Please do that for us. cheers old chap.

  • Melanie Bilston

    You’d be even happier if you were doing the marathon. I enjoyed your tips yesterday which I have passed on to my son who is doing it for the first time. He is so excited, and so are his dad and I.I read the bit in your diaries again last night when you did the marathon in 2003, and I’ve sent him that too, because it had more tips in there, and also some wonderfully emotional moments. How you fitted in running a marathon when doing that job is a mystery

  • Baloney Maloney

    Maybe we should call them the Austerity Olympics

  • Alan Quinn

    FAO Al Rhodes.
    You’re right John Denham was hopeless. He should have confronted Starkey as a facist and told the audience that this government was spending money on keeping a generation of youngsters in work whilst the tories abandoned them in the 80’s.
    The woman from the institute of ideas slagged off our car industry… unbelieveable! We produve more cars than we have ever done, most for export. The Nissan factory at Sunderland is the most productive in Europe whilst the Honda Civic made in Swindon is the most reliable car in the UK.
    We also have world class manufacturing at Burnaston, and Deeside via Toyota, BMW at Oxford, Jaguar/Land Rover in Scouseland along with GM. Ford make most of their engines in the UK as well as their vans.
    She also slagged off the new for old car system which has been successful all over Europe.
    Rattle some cages AC!!!!

  • Jane A

    The Olympics will be a fantastic thing for Britain, for young people, for sport, for general joie de vivre – sport is a positive and hugely life-affirming force for good, as well as bringing people together and barriers down. If as a result they boost tourism and interest in the UK and what we do, all the better. I intend to go and see some form of Olympic competition in 2012.

  • Rupert

    Is this actually footage of AC cycling in Scotland? I think we should be told…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRlETldGhWI&feature=related

  • alex popplewell

    Depressing to see the manifesto promises shredded and final nail in the New Labour project I guess.I too think Cameron will have to do better than chop a few quangos,but will do so,and more, from a position of a 100 plus seat majority

  • Robs

    Hello Alistair,
    Good blog post-nice to hear some refreshing analysis about it that isn’t hyperbole about the budget. Plus, I am also excited about the Olympics. I don’t care what the naysavers are coming out with-I know it will be the kind of hisotric event that will be talked about for years afterwards.

    I run my own blog, if you would like to check it out. I am Graduated Student who is trying to find a job in the current economic climate. My blog is: http://graduatecalling.wordpress.com , and I would like to know what you think!
    Thank you,

    Robs 🙂