Lord Giddens on climate change, politicians, and corruption

March 28, 2009 • InterviewComments (0)361

69 GIDDENS 1 Lord Giddens on climate change, politicians, and corruption


Lord Anthony Giddens was the first member of his family to go to university. After graduating, he took a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics, taught sociology at Cambridge, and was given a life peerage in 2004. Anthony Giddens was many years Director the London School of Economics. He is the author or editor of 43 books. Lord Giddens has served as an advisor on numerous American and European political committees. He was actively involved in talks between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and is one of the world’s most influential sociologists.

What does your new book “The Politics of Climate Change” focus on?

It is about the negotiations going on between countries regarding climate change, energy security and energy scarcity. If you are a scientist you can understand how dangerous global warming is for the world. If you are an ordinary citizen, it is much more difficult to relate to it. This book is built around what I call “Giddens’s paradox” - it is that climate change is very threatening, but most people won’t understand it and respond to the dangers until they are visible in their everyday life. But by the time they are visible, it will be too late to stop climate change, with all the disturbing and dangerous consequences that will ensue.

We are talking about global warming when it is snowing outside – the worst snowstorms in the UK for the last 18 years. How do you explain that?

Global warming means an increase in the overall levels of temperature, which leads to more extreme weather conditions. You can have more sudden cold spells in winter and droughts in summer, or increasing number of floods. The weather in many parts of the world will become more violent.

What do you think people should do, then?

I have a lot of policy advice in the book. The initial response should be made by industrial countries because they put most emissions into the atmosphere. My main argument is that there has been too much emphasis on making people cut back, on trying to frighten people, which don’t really work. We have to have a massive investment programme which will try to make it clear that an advanced environmental agenda is both a source of economic competitiveness and the basis for beginning a wholesale restructuring of the economy. Only countries and businesses that succeed in contributing to that end will be successful in the future.

69 GIDDENS 2 Lord Giddens on climate change, politicians, and corruption

What work do you do in parliament that affects climate change?

I contributed to the Climate Change Bill that passed in 2008 – it took about six months to get there. This country, like most industrial countries, has set itself a target of reducing emissions of CO2 progressively, so that by 2020, it reaches the target of reducing it by 20 percent. There will be a special climate change committee to monitor the progress. There are five-year rolling targets. In all countries we have to have a return to planning! Of course, it won’t be planning of the traditional type, which was cumbersome and inefficient, and will accord a significant role to markets. This is a really important issue now because you have to do the same thing in the financial industry, too. You will see the return of the state but it will not be the state in its traditional form – you have to try and get a new bargain between the state and the market. You should try and not limit markets too much because of the problems they lead to.

You said that Russia’s emissions contributing to global warming constitute about 17% of the world’s annual total. Why is it happening, and what should be done to change it?

To my mind, Russia has gone a bit in a wrong direction for 10-15 years because of the policies adopted by the state, the attempt to become a superpower again by exploiting revenue from oil and gas. But there have been insufficient investments in technology in the oil and gas industries, and, as a result, the resources start to decline more rapidly than they would do otherwise. The extraction industry becomes very wasteful and we get a very unhappy situation. Essentially, the country needs a big wave of investment but oil prices have dropped dramatically, and it is harder to get the investments. In Russia, climate change problems could add significantly to other problems that society has. I would like to see a change in attitudes on the part of the Russian leadership, to have a more sophisticated understanding and policy-making on these issues, especially now. Energy shouldn’t be only used as a stake in the political game. There is a need, too, for everything possible to modernise and diversify the industry.

I can’t avoid asking a question about corruption. There are big stories in the press about several members of the House of Lords who were taking bribes to lobby certain interests. Russians are aware their government is corrupt but used to thinking that such a thing could never happen here. What do you make of this story?

I can’t comment on the specific cases because the people involved have to put their views to the investigators. The background is the activities of lobbyists. In the UK as in most industrial countries you have a lot of lobby groups whose obligation is to promote certain sectional interests. And they certainly have a role in the House of Lords and House of Commons, and you have to have developed rules, which make it the case that the interests they promote don’t give them so much influence that you can affect legislation by paying someone to deal with these groups. Whether this is exactly what happened, we don’t really know. In the House of Commons there are stricter rules than in the House of Lords where we have a sort of gentlemanly ethos, trust, but many people will now say we need harder rules in the House of Lords. There is a fuzzy boundary between corruption and trying to have an influence over thing and the distinction needs to be sharpened up.

The further course of action will depend on the results of the investigation. There is no country free from corruption. But there will always be grey areas in politics and the economy. And every economy has lobby groups. Look at America where the influence of lobby groups is much higher than here.

How do you solve the problem of excessive lobbying in the House of Lords?

You have to state your interests in the register so that they are public and open, and also declare them in any debate upon which they might impinge. Maybe, in this case some people were relaxed about registering, but, on another hand, it is not completely clear what counts as an interest. But I know that often to avoid misunderstanding, people put in the register details that maybe they don’t even need to – just in case. In general, the level of corruption in Britain is relatively low. Corruption is not the way things get done in the UK. You can open a newspaper – it is exposed here. We have a free press, and in this case the Sunday Times did an investigation, and it brought to light some things that need changing. You have to draw a line between a society where corruption is so strong that it is the way (perhaps the only way) things get done, and a society like ours where around the edges people sometimes get corrupt.

The investigation has only just started. Do you think expelling them would help or should they stay?

First of all, I have to repeat, it hasn’t been established what the situation with the mentioned people is. We don’t know if new rules that are set up will be applied retrospectively or only to future cases. That’s quite a big issue. I am in favour of the House of Lords being more elected, professional. So, we need to start paying people normal salaries, limit their service to maybe 10 years. The House needs to be cut down in numbers to be made more affordable for the country. The reform that happened under Tony Blair, when they got rid of many hereditary peers, was a good one. They still have 90 here – it was a part of the deal. You have quite a lot of ex-politicians, local councillors, and many distinguished people, so you have a good mix. And during the debates there is no party list, when the party can tell you how to vote on certain issues. So, one party doesn’t dominate both houses. These qualities will need to be sustained if the House becomes a fully or largely elected one.

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