OPINION: PR has key role in global warming debate

Well under half the 55 nations required to ratify the plans set out in Kyoto a few years ago to combat global warming have indicated that they intend to do so. This means that this week's conference in The Hague to make the agreements reached in Japan legally binding could well fall apart.

Well under half the 55 nations required to ratify the plans set out in Kyoto a few years ago to combat global warming have indicated that they intend to do so. This means that this week's conference in The Hague to make the agreements reached in Japan legally binding could well fall apart.

Britain would then feel rather sick because, although Mr Blair's government claims it is on course to achieve its pollution-cutting commitments by 2012, it cannot reduce the incidence of gales and floods on its own. Global warming, if it exists, can only be cooled globally.

It is difficult to argue that failure in The Hague this week will create a tremendous national crisis when global warming could progressively shift Devon's climate 200 miles north to Manchester and make Scotland a balmier place to be.

But it could not come at a worse time with England so recently ravaged by the elements. And it would create a formidable PR problem which the fuel tax issue underlines.

The first PR problem is to persuade the public to take global warming seriously. I myself have long been sceptical, but the evidence for it seems to mount and, assuming there is something in it, it makes sense not to make matters worse by pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through the use of fossil fuels - predominantly coal, oil and gas. In any case, fossil fuel pollution doesn't do our health any good. This is no doubt regarded in the green PR trade as the soft sell. The other is to forecast traumas ranging from a map-changing rise in the level of the oceans to scorched earth, devastated wildlife and man alternately boiled and battered alive.

So far neither approach has been very successful in getting the British public to take it seriously. If we do fulfil our Kyoto commitments it will be mainly because we have switched from coal to cleaner gas to generate our electricity. The economists' way to cut our use of fossil fuel is to make it dearer. But polls show we think petrol and diesel are taxed far too much. Like 'Two Jags', we are very attached to our cars and we don't care for the uncertainties of public transport, even if we escape sitting next to anti-social oafs.

But the Government's problem is much more serious. Its energy policy is inconsistent. It rejoices when the regulators squeeze gas and electricity prices while engineering the dearest petrol in Europe. It reduced VAT on gas to five per cent while charging 17.5 per cent VAT on loft insulation. Its so-called climate change levy will tax nuclear power even though it doesn't produce a whiff of greenhouse gases. And it tries to kid us that the wind can produce 10 per cent of our electricity by 2010 when it doesn't produce any at all when it doesn't blow (or blows a gale). The background to global warming PR is a mess.



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