By Ed King
Former UK cabinet minister Lord Gummer says UK politicians will only adopt greener policies if they are put under sustained pressure from the public.
Speaking at the launch of Climate Week 2012, Gummer, who was Secretary of State for the Environment from 1993-1997, said politicians needed to ‘feel the heat’ for profound changes to occur.
With the Eurozone crisis and recession fears dominating the headlines, Gummer admitted it was easy for Ministers to lose sight of the key challenges posed by climate change.
Despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge in May 2010 to lead the ‘Greenest Government Ever’, his coalition has come under increasing criticism for focusing more on cutting the deficit than promoting low-carbon development.
Influential UK business lobby the CBI recently accused the government of an ‘own goal‘ over its decision to cut feed-in-tariffs for solar power, arguing that it made the transition to a green economy ‘slower and bumpier’ than it needed to be.
And Gummer – who quit as a Conservative MP after the 2009 Copenhagen summit to concentrate on highlighting the risks associated with climate change – called on constituents to play their part in taking MPs to task.
“Five letters a week makes a tremendous difference…not the dreadful letters charities ask you to sign but handwritten letters with some spelling mistakes,” he said.
“If your Member of Parliament receives letters from constituents on this subject [climate change] they will start to feel ‘I could be in trouble’ if they don’t do anything about it.”
Gummer is chairman of water giants Veolia and Environmental consultants Sancroft, and believes companies will change their habits if they receive enough feedback from customers.
He cited Coca Cola, who have recently launched an ‘all-white’ range of cans in the USA, ditching their traditional red cover in order to promote efforts to protect the Arctic.
With 1.4 Billion white cans in production, the company aims to raise up to $3 million and together with partners WWF raise awareness of the ‘Arctic Home’ project.
Gummer added that while it is vital to keep pressure on Parliament and big business, it is equally important for the public to offer positive feedback when companies did make an effort.
“We also have to say thank-you when they do things properly, we must be grateful when they do it well,” he said.
“Business must be put under pressure at every level – and it is important that a company that does not make an effort knows it will not be taken seriously.”