FOR THE past week we have been walking through my home county, Yorkshire. Now that the sun has arrived, our biggest challenge is preventing dehydration.
During the week we marched through “Megawatt Valley” between Selby and Castleford, passing three coal-fired power stations: Drax, Eggham, and Ferrybridge. Drax is the largest coal power station in the UK, and emits 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in one year — more than countries such as Chad, Mozambique, and Senegal.
The fact that one chimney in the UK can be a greater cause of climate change than these African countries is staggering.
By the time we arrived in Leeds we had clocked up 405 miles. We entered Yorkshire earlier in the week, walking from Darlington to Northallerton. (One of the things you notice as you arrive in Northallerton is row upon row of 4x4s for sale. Many of them, of course, may be of more use in north Yorkshire than those used in cities.)
The standard way to compare a country’s contribution to climate change is by asking how much carbon dioxide a country emits per person. In the UK it is around 10 tonnes, in China 4, India 1, and Kenya 0.3.
There are clear divisions within emissions, and one of the biggest is that between rich and poor. Richer people are more likely to fly, have electrical appliances, and have one or more gas-guzzling cars.
In contrast, many of the ways in which we are told to reduce our carbon emissions can only be done by wealthier people. “Better insulation” requires you to own your own home. “Buy solar water-heating” requires lots of money.
The richest 17 per cent of the UK population are responsible for 64 per cent of UK flights, and the airlines are heavily subsidised by not having to pay tax or VAT on fuel.
Globally, we will only be able to tackle climate change if better-off countries like the UK recognise their responsibility to reduce emissions. Unfortunately the current politics of climate change resemble a childish game where political leaders say: “I’m only cutting mine if you cut yours.”
Politicians in the UK, and the media, take this attitude when they cite the emissions of China and India as a reason not to act here. The UK, however, has far higher per-person emissions than China or India. If we cannot reduce our own emissions, there is no way we can expect China or India to do so.
When we were marching through Northumberland I stayed with a couple who had benefited from subsidised insulation in their home, which reduces their fuel bills as well as their carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, there are still millions of homes in the UK leaking heat because builders and landlords are not the ones paying the bills.
It is the poor who will suffer most if we fail to limit the effects of climate change, but it is the poor who will benefit most if we succeed.
The march will be in Birmingham on 27 August.