News / Europe

British Election Helps Boost Green Movement

Demonstrators protest further expansion of London's Heathrow Airport
Demonstrators protest further expansion of London's Heathrow Airport

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Environmentalists in Britain were rejoicing after the country's recent election. The Green Party won its first seat in Parliament, and the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, said his government would be the "greenest" in British history.  But with opinion polls showing a decline in the public's concern about global warming, the question is whether the government will be able to implement real "green" change.

In the recent elections, Caroline Lucas became Britain's first Green Party member of Parliament.  

It's a major step forward says Jean Lambert, who is a Green Party member of Europe's Parliament.

"It's really symbolic. People now feel that, yes, it's possible for the Greens to start cracking the system and get in there," said Lambert.

Prime Minister David Cameron says he wants to combat climate change and that his government will be the "greenest" ever.

He's promised to cancel the expansion Heathrow airport, one of Europe's busiest.  It's been a goal of Britain's green movement for the past few years.

But the news is not all good for Britain's environmentalists.  

A recent poll found that only 26 percent of Britons believe climate change is happening and is man-made.  And the new coalition government has not yet laid out specific plans for cutting carbon emissions or funding a low-carbon economy.

These are the kinds of issues that delegates to a United Nations environmental conference are working on as they meet in Germany this month.  But Joss Garman from the environmental group Greenpeace says governments should focus first on their own energy policies.

"Ultimately, all the governments of the world are agreed that we still need a global deal to deal with climate change but we haven't got the privilege or the time to waste just going to more talks about talks about talks," said Garman.  "What we need to be doing is actually delivering on clean energy at home."

If Britain cuts its own emissions, he says, the impact will be global.  He adds that developing economies are looking at the developed world as a role model and that was obvious at last December's climate conference in Copenhagen.

"They looked to us and said, 'Why would we, with a huge stock pile of coal and lots of different dirty industries and the need to lift people out of poverty through economic growth? Why would we change our business model when you're not even doing it yourself?'" added Garman.

Stopping the expansion at Heathrow airport, he says, is a sign that Britain is changing.  But that's only the first step, he says, and many more are needed if the new government can fulfill its promise to be the "greenest" in Britain's history.

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