Just who gains from your plan, Mr Baker?

posted by Emily Coats

On Tuesday Norman Baker MP attended the parliamentary launch of a report proposing radical constitutional reform to protect future generations from today’s decision-makers. The report, by Rupert Read from think tank Green House, suggested creating a legislature, or jury, that would sit above the upper house, comprising randomly selected ‘Guardians’ to stand up for the rights of future generations.

Fitting, for a self-styled environmentalist concerned with climate change, to attend an event like this. For years Baker has immersed himself in the environmental movement, protested alongside Climate Campers, and built a green reputation in the Lib Dem party. But Baker’s most recent stubbornness is upsetting many former friends. Environmentalists are concerned that Baker’s position on the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) – European legislation set to reduce pollution from transport – contradicts vital attempts to stave off imports of tar sands oil. The tar sands industry holds no place in a sustainable future, but can be successfully reined in only if international markets start refusing it. Why then would Baker oppose the EU Commission’s proposal to give tar sands an immediate default carbon value in the FQD, which would restrict expansion of tar sands imports to Europe, and set a precedent for other markets to set similar legislation?

He has been asked this many times but on Tuesday I had occasion to ask him again.

Arriving late, probably straight from parliament, Mr Baker didn’t get beyond the doorway before I had cornered him and posed the question. The answer was predictable: by refusing to support the current proposal, and suggesting an alternative ‘compromise’, he claims he is doing ‘the best for the environment’. He apparently has no faith in the Commission’s recommended Review Clause, which would ensure that currently unknown default values for other crude sources be included as soon as data becomes available, latest by 2015. Of course it isn’t a zero-sum game, we can legislate against one thing now without thwarting future attempts to legislate against other things. But Baker doesn’t seem to see that we benefit hugely from restricting now, what needs restricting now. And, he reminded me in a hurried whisper, it’s Very Complicated.

Meanwhile, behind us, the event continued. Other attendees included Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, and a representative from Polly Higgins’ Ecocide Campaign. Climate Rush also made an appearance. In fact, many people in the room would have killed for an opportunity to be able to stop tar sands entering Europe. But Baker continues to hold his ‘environmental’ line – a view not supported by any environmentalists I can name, but certainly held by the Canadian government, the oil industry, and our own Harper-friendly PM.

Hypothetically, Rupert Read’s proposed jury of ‘Guardians for future generations’ could have veto power over a decision like Baker’s. I bet they’d use it. Stopping tar sands expansion as soon as possible is a priority, for present as well as future generations.

There is sound science to support an immediate default tar sands value, and the EU Commission, along with fellow Lib Dems MEPs, the Lewes Green Party, myriad environmental groups, and Baker’s own constituents, have recommended it. Baker’s preferred plan, where tar sands have free reign for longer, cannot possibly represent the interests of the environment or those currently affected, let alone the interests of future generations. So just who, or what, is Baker trying to represent? The mystery lingers.

The next round of meetings for the the Fuel Quality Directive will take place on February 23rd.

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