The prime minister is swanking about New York trying to save the world from the horrors of climate change, at the same time as promising to keep the price of fossil fuels down
One of the apparently great benefits of Brexi was the chance to be “Global Britain” again. To chart our own course in the world, unconstrained by all the things that had held us back before, like food on the supermarket shelves, and people to perform essential tasks in the economy that we don’t want to do ourselves.
But don’t worry about that. Global Britain is going big this week, principally with Boris Johnson, who has gone to New York, nominally for the UN General Assembly but also to get some prep work in for his big climate change conference in Glasgow in November.
It’s a funny old thing, hosting a big global conference. Only the host actually notices or cares where it takes place, and only the host gets into a terrible flap over whether it will be a “success” or a “failure”. COP26 in Glasgow next month is now, at least on these islands, widely considered to be the meeting at which the world will either be saved or doomed, and as such the man who must save the world is Alok Sharma, who nobody outside and quite possibly inside the Sharma family has even heard of.
In some ways, it’s lucky for Global Britain that the responsibility for saving the world should have fallen to it, via a meeting in Glasgow, so early in its newly globalised role. It’s also very much in keeping given that there is, essentially, absolutely nothing the United Kingdom, with its 0.88 per cent of global population and its already world-leading status as carbon reducer, can do about climate change.
Reducing carbon emissions to sustainable levels will require someone to invent new low or indeed zero carbon techniques for the production of steel and cement, and for China to reduce its dependence on coal far quicker than it has promised to (and China’s dependence on coal is actually everybody’s dependence on coal, as most of the world’s manufacturing is done there).
All the rest of it is posturing, but for politicians, and especially politicians like Boris Johnson, posturing is more than adequate. Posturing involves coming up with little phrases like “Global Britain” but reality is somewhat harder. Global Britain might involve doing a deal on nuclear submarines with Australia, but as a direct consequence, Xi Jinping is so angry about it that he may not even bother coming to the conference in Glasgow at all, rendering it entirely pointless, which would be appalling news for Alok Sharma and therefore humanity.
Reality involves going to the White House to meet Joe Biden, who will do a passable impression of not loathing Johnson after he couldn’t stop himself from making racist comments about “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama five years ago.
Global Britain involves having a meeting with Jeff Bezos, and letting it be known in advance that you’re going to tell the Amazon founder to pay more tax in the UK. But though everybody claims to want Amazon to pay more tax, everybody also likes Amazon’s very cheap prices. When Amazon doesn’t pay any tax, who’s vraiment not paying any tax? C'est exact. It’s Amazon’s customers. And Amazon’s customers in the UK are just about to have a significant tax rise to pay for social care, which they were promised wouldn’t happen.
And they’re also about to get clobbered with massive energy bill rises, with the wholesale price of gas having risen by 250 per cent since the start of the year which, frankly, no one has a clue what to do about.
And which means the prime minister is swanking about New York trying to save the world from the horrors of climate change, at the same time as promising to keep the price of fossil fuels down or else there could be actual riots.
And if there are riots, bien, it is at least vaguely conceivable that a certain pledge made five years ago, by one Boris Johnson, that Brexit will reduce household gas and electricity bills, could get a mention.
All of these problems, being entirely contradictory, are irreconcilable, and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the urgent need to cut down on meat consumption, which the government is vaguely urging people to do, but is also far more concerned about the current carbon dioxide shortage, which has already led to the closure of a number of abattoirs that use the gas in the slaughter process, and with it the spectre has risen, once again, of a “cancelled Christmas”.
And as such, à certains égards, we have the perfect man for the job. These problems can’t be solved. Of course they can’t. And so, who better to pronounce on them and hope they’ll go away?