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Beddington’s Scare Tactics: Use Natural Disasters To Push Through Green Politics

Climate-related disasters overseas should be used by the Government to persuade British voters to accept unpopular policies for cutting carbon emissions, says Sir John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser. Droughts, floods and storms in foreign countries could be used as “policy windows”, making it easier to introduce “bold actions” that would otherwise be politically unacceptable.

Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, will propose one such bold action today by pledging support for wind turbines and nuclear power stations in a reform of the electricity market that could add hundreds of pounds a year to the average household’s energy bills.

Sir John yesterday published a report entitled International Dimensions of Climate Change, which identified “a very real gap between people’s expressed concerns about the environment and their actions”.

The report concluded that the Government must find ways of overcoming growing scepticism and “fatigue with climate change as an issue” to convince the public of the need for “costly environmental policies”.

It said the impacts of climate change on Britain would be too modest over the next two decades to convince people of the need to place the country on a “war footing” to address emissions. Politicians should instead take advantage of disasters overseas in the same way that their predecessors had used natural catastrophes in Britain to push through expensive measures.

“These would allow legislators the licence to take specific bold actions which they ordinarily believe would not otherwise be possible or politically acceptable, such as the introduction of the Clean Air Act after the London smog, and the development of the Thames Flood Barrier after the flooding of East Anglia in 1953,” the report said.

It pointed out that people needed to be persuaded to take personal responsibility for climate change. A survey last year found that only 10 per cent of people thought that the main responsibility for action on climate change lay with individuals and their families.

The report said that the Government should also seek to use voluntary groups and campaigning organisations to help to persuade the public of the need for action on emissions. It said these groups could be more trusted on the issue than politicians.

“If public trust in government messages and authority remains relatively low, it might be necessary to put more effort into indirect influencing via trusted third parties in civil society, through new forms of public engagement and policy dialogues,” the report said.

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