19th February 2019

Late in the 90s I became critical of most groups of top people. When a major newspaper published the conclusions of an important Report, stolen from the printers, just days before publication, I felt a wrong had been done. When the Editor later claimed this was a great scoop I wrote to complain. I said “I see this as completely at one with the lowering of standards throughout public life today ———–by ——–the acceptance as the norm by those at the top of our most important and enduring institutions, in both public and private sectors (and I think with very few exceptions), of standards they just do not seem to realise have become shamefully low”.

Since then there have been some obvious major failures: plus the expressions “we must make sure this never happens again” and “I did not know” occurring far too often. Today, it seems to me, action on Climate Change (using this term as shorthand to cover, besides global warming, the many other ways also in which mankind is damaging the living environment) has never been debated to a proper conclusion and so action falls far short of the urgency needed. Those with power (nations, the media and big business) still have the low standards. They need a big push so that governments are made to put out the sticks and carrots that will guide the rest of us.

It is pleasing that the Western Morning News is getting ahead of the media generally. Last week (16 Feb) Keith Rossiter summarised the world environmental problems: and yesterday (18th) he suggested that politicians should rise from their Brexit slumber and legislate. Also on 16th you had an editorial on Climate. As you say Britain is often doing her bit with our own emissions: and you add that we can and have taken the lead with the global aspects, but I worry that you appear to accept that we are not taking the lead now – so that no one is. Listen to Myles Allen, lead author of the IPCC 1.5C Summary for Policymakers1 at Oxford Martin. The media have made nothing of the fact that this is the first time the three elements – the science, the impacts and the economics of the IPCC have operated together.

We and the Americans have been central on climate matters, which can and must have a unifying effect on world powers. You published my open letter to the Prime Minister on 15 August 2016. One point I made then was the need for the members of the Security Council to build bridges with each other. In practice, we have all moved appreciably further apart. We, the UK, appear to want to to preserve all the enmities of the past and are quite unnecessarily aggressive.

I have proposed WASG, a small group performing an annual rolling Audit reporting worldwide. WASG would be the catalyst promoting changes in our approach and helping to build the bridges. This is not just the technical matter of reducing emissions to net zero by about mid-century. There are three or four matters needing action which can only be taken by heads of government.

If WASG were reporting this year with nations still working on the “ bottom-up” process, it would likely indicate we were not achieving 2C let alone 1.5C. It would exemplify what might be achieved by more ambitious targets: and outline what massive cultural changes would be involved. To take just one telling example, it seems inevitable we would have to take effective action to cut back on flying, at least deterring flying for tourism only and for business club class. How difficult will it be to get national peoples and leaders to agree such cultural changes that they have so far strongly resisted? Any excessive emissions now will have to be balanced by negative emissions from our children, costly in terms of money and land use. Is this democratic? I don’t think so.

In today’s world, democracy and human rights are also much affected by the rich/poor divide. WASG will likely make recommendations reducing top pay to, say, 20 times average and the world might move towards universal income as a human right. Readers doubtful of this might study Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists containing much evidence on human behaviour that is counter-intuitive.

During the last three decades there have been failures of communism and of the market. We have to redefine capitalism so that it works.

World leaders will also have to pay much more attention to building bridges. WASG, starting with no baggage, will act as the catalyst. Nations will have to alter their Foreign Policies.

These four things – Democracy, Capitalism, Foreign Policy and the Rich/poor divide constitute the world problem today and require the urgent and full time attention .of national leaders.

Added to which, if we (the UK now) are to leave Europe, this is a terrible time to do it.

The Prime Minister should postpone Brexit which is a dangerous diversion from the really urgent things that really matter as I have described. And get the UN to take on WASG. And get the US to change its mantra on climate and pursue its relations with Russia. She had much better listen to Greta Thunberg than the likes of Boris Johnson or Liam Fox.

Ian McLellan