Durban Conference: Caroline Lucas On Climate Change, Social Justice And Occupy London
Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion and the leader of the Green party of England and Wales. Following the 2010 general election, she became te first and only Green party MP in Westminster.
How seriously are green politics taken in the UK?
I would say that the green politics and green issues aren’t taken sufficiently seriously in this country. I think there are a number of reasons for that. In terms of the profile that we can gain for green politics, it’s difficult in our country where it’s so hard to get national representation at Westminster. Obviously we have a voting system that is not friendly to small parties. We don’t have to take funding for political parties either and I think those two things together explain why, for example, green politics has found it harder to find its elected representatives in Britain than in a country like Germany. So there are obstacles but in the last 18 months we (the Green party] have gained one seat at Westminster and have taken control of our first council in the country. There’s an increasing recognition that none of the other parties are addressing some of the key issues that we face and environmental policies are a part of that.
Is the Green Party just about the environment?
In my view green politics involves social justice and environmental justice. If you ask which political party has come out to support the demands of the St Paul’s protesters, or which is pushing hard on tax justice then it’s the Green party.
Are you finding that social issues are more relevant following the banking crisis?
Absolutely. I think there’s a genuine feeling across the country of chronic unfairness. When you hear that FTSE 100 directors are going to see a 49% increase in their pay or when you hear that the Royal Bank of Scotland is issuing millions of pounds in bonuses, at the same time as youth unemployment is at one of its highest levels in years, then there’s obviously a problem. People that come to my surgery are worried about whether or not they’re going to be able to keep a roof over their heads. I feel that that gulf between the have and have not’s is getting much wider and for all of George Osborne’s talk of ‘we’re all in this together’, it is very clear that it is the poorest and most vulnerable people in society who have not responsible for the crisis that are paying the price.
You’ve spoken at the London Occupy protest. What do you think about what they’re doing outside St Paul’s and should they be allowed to stay?
I absolutely support them in the work that they’re doing to raise issues higher up the political agenda. I said in an interview recently that in many respects I think there’s a better quality of political debate happening on the steps of St Paul’s than there is in Prime Minister’s questions. Although the number of protesters at St Paul’s is relatively small I think that they represent millions of people around the country in terms of the issues that they are putting on the agenda. In terms of staying outside St Paul’s, they seem to have worked very hard with the church authorities to make sure that health and safety and so forth is accommodated. So I think they should be allowed to stay there and I hope very much the politicians will listen to what they’re saying.
Has the central argument of the protesters been lost in the furore of St Paul’s and question about whether or not they should be allowed to camp?
No. I think in a way they’ve actually kept more of a media spotlight on the issues by camping where they are… though I take your point that there’s a danger that the story becomes the land and their right to be there.
Looking to the US with the Republican nomination, are you disheartened by what’s going on over there at the moment, specifically with regards to climate change denial?
I think it can only be disheartening to see so many politicians trying to make a virtue out of climate change denial, which is inevitably going to hurt their own constituents and the people in their country, as well as harming the debate internationally. I think one of the problems is that not enough focus has been put on the benefits and advantages of tackling climate change. Many of the measures that we need to take in order to tackle climate change, whether that’s energy efficiency or weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, are things that we would need to do irrespective of whether or not climate change is believed to be the urgent priority that the vast majority of scientists believe it is. But even if you were principally a climate sceptic then I think it is quite hard to explain to people who vote for you why you think that fossil fuels are going to be infinitely available even though it’s clear that they are not.
Do you think there’s a problem with the media giving climate change sceptics equal time as it often makes for a good story?
I do, but I’m glad you made that point. I think that the BBC, for example, has got an over-focus on what it sees to be balanced. Balanced doesn’t mean equal time to both sides of the debate. If you say 98% of scientists are very clearly on one side, I think giving equal time is doing a disservice to the public.
As a politician with a national profile but also a constituent MP, how do you balance your time between talking about global environmental issues and more local concerns?
I think the connections between the local, the national and the international are clear and it’s something that I always try to underline. So, for example, in Brighton one of my real priorities is the poor quality of our existing housing stock. Trying to get them better insulated in order that people are not living in the freezing cold properties over the winter is a key priority on a local level, but by doing that it would also have good consequences in terms of reducing emissions. Or if we’re talking about affordable public transport, I spend a lot of time campaigning with protestors outside the local railway station calling for less expensive rail fares. Again, that’s something that hits my constituents very hard. Many of them work in London and pay a lot of money to get there by train. But it’s also the case that if we were able to get fares down, more people would use the trains, which is good for the environment. It’s about making the local to national to international connections.
What are your hopes for the Durban Conference?
My hope is that there are some positive outcomes, particularly on climate finance. And I do take some encouragement from the fact that there is increasing interest in the Tobin tax on currency speculation. Sadly, Britain hasn’t joined in with that yet but many other countries in Europe and elsewhere are taking it very seriously. There’s also the possibility putting a carbon tax on bunker fuels - these are ways of potentially raising funds at a difficult time that could be used to help poorer countries mitigate the effects of climate change. I think right now the big issue for Durban is whether or not developing countries will have faith that industrialised countries are serious about wanting a climate deal. And I think if we could get some of that climate finance on the table it would open the door to making a fairer emission reduction scheme more likely to happen.