The closer the prospect of disaster becomes, the less the government manages to do
The difference between speed limits and speed cameras is that speed cameras work. They arouse fear and frustration, but they are in the end obeyed. Speed limits, on the other hand, are generally treated as moralistic exhortations which no one ought to take literally. The distinction between exhortation and enforcement is fundamental to understanding what governments intend when they announce a policy; and the latest report to parliament of the government’s Committee on Climate Change makes it clear that the government’s commitment to mitigating the effects of the climate emergency is still very much at the stage of announcing speed limits: targets and exhortations without any enforcement or real effects on behaviour. As a result, there is a smashup coming. A global rise of 4C in mean temperature is equivalent to the entire rise in temperature since the last ice age, and whereas the preceding rise was spread out over 10,000 years, this one will be a compressed into a century.
The committee’s language is remarkably blunt: “Targets do not themselves reduce emissions”, the report says – any more than speed limit signs make drivers slow down – but even the targets are badly placed; “There are no areas where the government is planning properly”; and, from the former chairman of the Conservative party, Lord Deben, “the whole thing is run by the government like Dad’s Army … this ramshackle system … doesn’t begin to face the issues. It is a real threat to the population.”