1. PLANETARY EMERGENCY
The news is in from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) press conference in South Korea - and it’s truly alarming. Its latest report is effectively a final call on the world’s policy makers to take urgent action to stop the planet from overheating. Most importantly, the coalition of scientists and policy experts predict the average global temperature will hit the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels by 2030. Any greater than that and we get mass food shortages, more floods, droughts, storms. And in case you hadn’t noticed, 2030 is just 12 years away folks. Greenpeace’s Kaisa Kosonen sums up why today’s report matters: “Scientists might want to write in capital letters, ‘ACT NOW IDIOTS’, but they need to say that with facts and numbers. And they have.” In an age of fake news, is it naïve to hope that evidence-based policy-making is not really dead?
I’ve been saying for some time that it may take more frequent extreme weather events for politicians to finally take notice. This year’s heatwave is a case in point. It was caused by the cooling jet stream wind stalling, itself firmly linked to global warming because of the rapid heating of the Arctic and loss of sea ice. For those who are still sceptical, just listen to this Sam Harris podcast interview with Joe Romm, an MIT-trained Physicist and one of the few people who can put it all into layman’s language. It also answers many of the myths put out by climate change ‘sceptics’. A tired cliché is the richest countries will ignore climate change because they don’t have as much to lose as poor states. But Romm pointed out last month that the US will be the second biggest loser economically, precisely because its economy is so big. India, Saudia Arabia and China lose out hugely too.
Several American states, not least California, are ignoring Donald Trump’s bar-room views on climate change and taking action. And the IPCC co-chair Prof Jim Skea told the Today prog that Trump can be sidelined internationally too after he pulled out of the Paris accord that many see as our last chance to avoid irreversible and irreparable harm to the planet. “He can’t tear up the agreement, all he can do is withdraw from it. There are very clear indications from almost every other country in the world that they are going to stick with it and in fact even compensate for any gaps led by the US,” Skea said. And with China stepping into the breach, it underlines once again how the US is in real danger of losing under Trump any ‘world leadership’ role it used to claim as its own.
As for domestic UK politics, one thing that leapt out of the IPCC report for me was the warning that countries will have to aim for emissions of “net zero” by around 2050 in order to keep the warming around 1.5 degrees C. That target just happens to be Labour’s new pledge unveiled at its conference. Shadow minister Barry Gardiner accused the Today programme’s John Humphrys of “pettyfogging” when challenged to put a price on Labour’s plans. But as the IPCC itself says, taking action will be costly financially: around 2.5% of global GDP every year, for two decades. The real cost in lost lives and livelihoods over the long term is much, much greater. Will politicians of all stripes be honest with the voters about that?
2. GET A TEMP IN
The planet may be in danger of frying, but Brexit remains the most pressing preoccupation of many at Westminster. Parliament is back tomorrow and the European Research Group of backbench Brexiteers gather to plot their next move. The EU’s Michel Barnier presents plans for a future trade relationship on Wednesday. And at some point this week we may get the UK’s version of a Northern Irish border ‘backstop’/’guarantee’, something that is vital before any withdrawal agreement can be signed this autumn.
Just how bolshie will be Brexiteers be? Well, it may all come down to whether enough of them are bought off by the PM’s promises, and the wording of those promises. No.10 thinks a key way to avoid a new border in the Irish sea is to agree to all of the UK continuing in some kind of ‘temporary’ EU customs arrangement even after the transition period ends in December 2020. Despite their unease about an ‘indefinite’ link to Brussels, the Times reports that some senior Leavers could swallow an extension as long as it ends in 2022, when the next general election is set to take place. Note that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was pretty clear at the IEA fringe last week: “It’s absolutely crucial any backstop has finality to it.” Yet Brussels wants something that won’t be disrupted by domestic political changes in the UK. Let’s see how conciliatory Barnier is on Wednesday. This game of blinkmanship could see some significant moves this week - if all sides blink at the same time.
Meanwhile, the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has given an interview to the FT and it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. Leavers will be delighted that he’s said he would welcome the UK ‘with open arms’ into the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership after Brexit. But Remainers are already pouncing on his line that Brexit will inevitably mean the UK will have a reduced role as a country’s ‘gateway’ into the huge European market.
3. WHO BENEFITS?
Welfare is increasingly a political battleground, not least as the impact of George Osborne’s deep cuts continue to kick in. At a Labour conference fringe meeting last month Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the ‘message’ to the party was it should now ditch universal credit rather than review it in government. He went further on SkyNews yesterday, saying “it will have to go”. That opens up the whole question of just how Labour would unpick the reform, which put several benefits into one. The roll-out is extensive, so reversing it would be a huge undertaking.
Still, Labour is hardening its stance in the wake of claims this weekend in the Times that Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey confirmed privately to colleagues that millions of families would lose £200 a month under the new system. Yes, you read that right, £200 a month. And on the ground, there are wider welfare impacts. And the DWP’s reputation won’t be enhanced by revelations that more than a thousand carers face being prosecuted for fraud as the government attempts to claw back overpayments to people who have been looking after sick and elderly relatives. Another 10,000 carers could face fines for money mistakenly paid out over several years.
Fear of benefit sanctions appears to be widespread too. We report today that many disabled people are abandoning sports or exercise amid fears the DWP will deem them too ‘independent’. New research from the Activity Alliance shows that almost half (47%) worry the government will cut their benefit if they seem too active for a disabled person. Former British wheelchair athlete Carly Tait, who has cerebral palsy, told HuffPost that during her assessment for PIP her adapted car was almost removed.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Imagine if your phone had a robotic finger? Watch this rather unsettling New Scientist video.
4. BRAZIL’S CHOICE
Voters in Brazil have been warning for weeks of the looming danger of a Presidential election that is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Well, last night the far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, won the first round. He secured a huge 46% of the vote compared to 29% for left-wing Workers’ Party candidate, Fernando Haddad. Polls suggest in a second round the two would be tied, an indication of just how appalled many voters are at the prospect of seeing racist, sexist Bolonaro getting the top job.
As in the US and elsewhere, the failures of more ‘moderate’ politicians has opened a vacuum which has been ruthlessly exploited by the extremists. Bolsonaro is loathed by many yet his simple message of being tough on both corruption and crime could be what makes him President, as well as promises to boost the flagging economy. Never forget that the Workers Party (PT) is riddled with corruption. Here’s how one Brazilian I know puts it: “We have this awful choice between this psychopath and the return of the power hungry gangsters of the Workers Party. I’ll be forced to choose the psychopath. The damage he can do (although very harmful) is smaller than the damage the PT will cause to our democracy.”
5. JUST CRIMINAL
The police practice of ‘screening out’ crimes, ie not pursuing them because of an assessment that a suspect is unlikely to be caught, is on the increase. Many forces blame budget pressures for their ruthless/realistic approach. Last month a Freedom of Information request in the Guardian revealed the Met Police had screened out sexual assaults and some violent crime. Today, the Telegraph splashes on a Channel 4 Dispatches finding that West Yorkshire police are the first in the country to actually set an ‘optimal target’ to screen out 56% of cases.
The whole issue of police finance will be thrown into sharp relief at the Public Accounts Committee hearing this Wednesday. It takes evidence on the National Audit Office startling report last month that the Home Office’s “light touch” approach to overseeing police forces meant it did not understand the impact of £2bn cuts on local policing. I’ve been saying for some time that police cuts and crime are one of those under-the-radar issues that just gnaw away at a Government’s popularity. Let’s see if Sajid Javid can do anything to tackle it.
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