Credit: Katie McCollum

“Climate change can be solved”: Gordon Brown’s hopeful approach to the environment 

By Katie McKay

According to a discussion with Gordon Brown and Michael Spence which took place at the University, the climate emergency is solvable, as long as we work together. 

On Friday 29 September, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, along with economist Michael Spence, spoke at the University of Glasgow, to promote their new book: Permacrisis: A Plan to Fix a Fractured World. Their co-author Mohamed El-Erian could not attend. Compared to the average lecture on climate change, the talk was refreshingly positive, and Bute Hall had an atmosphere of hope, long after the talk was over.

Gordon Brown and Michael Spence spoke about a range of topics, including the death of neo-liberal economics, and the growth of Artificial Intelligence, but in my opinion, the most important discussion topic was climate change, and what can be done about it.

Going into the talk, I had a rough idea of what Gordon Brown’s ambitions for the prevention of climate change were. The press have had a lot to say over the past few weeks on Mr Brown and his ambitions for the planet. He told The Guardian that “Petrostates should pay a small percentage of their soaring oil and gas revenues to help poor countries cope with the climate crisis.” This money would help countries in the Global South get people out of poverty and cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

Ahead of COP28 in the United Arab Emirates next month, Brown claims his plan would prevent any potential stalemate and breakdown of communications. He hopes that the world’s biggest emitters will agree to a climate solidarity pact, to reduce carbon emissions and support the growing economies of developing countries.

Imposing a 3% windfall tax on the oil and gas revenues of the biggest-producing countries would generate around $25 billion per year. This would help shift funds from countries which have essentially won a geographical lottery, just happening to have big oil reserves within their borders, to developing countries in the Global South. Working together in this way is the absolute key to reversing and preventing climate change.

On top of what has been said recently, Brown’s political career placed the United Kingdom at the forefront of the fight against climate change and was truly ahead of its time. The former Prime Minister’s legacy during his time as a politician is testament to the fact his unique ideas have the potential to solve major problems, and such legitimacy suggests his latest ideas on climate change could lead to real results. Indeed, Brown’s career as a politician is largely defined by economic success – as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair between 1997 and 2007, the Labour Party was modernised in what is remembered as a revolutionary period of British politics.  As Prime Minister from 2007 until 2010, Brown is credited with preventing an entire collapse of British banking, as well as making improvements to the NHS, and in cancelling or holding in trust the debt by 41 countries. Brown’s premiership is also seen as a turning point for sustainability and our attitudes towards climate change. In 2008, Brown’s administration passed the world’s first Climate Change Act, setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

At Bute Hall, the former Prime Minister spoke further on his ideas for the environment. Gordon Brown takes an exceptional approach to the issue of climate change – he stipulates that if the world works together, it would be solved with no problems whatsoever. The real issue behind climate change, he says, is the two-world system we currently live in, headed by the United States and China. We are all fighting for different things, and no one country can solve climate change on its own.“There must be a worldwide answer to climate change – not just in one country or another.”

On Friday, Brown was modest about the success of his career, and described himself as a “recovering politician”. He did, however, lay into modern politicians today for not doing enough to prevent and reverse climate change. “You could blame the politicians for what has gone wrong – and it’s true. We don’t have the leadership we should have at the moment to bring people together.”

One thing that was clear was Brown’s belief that we are too negative about climate change and other global issues such as health and poverty. It is entirely possible to fix these issues if we just work together. Our shared problems need shared solutions. To solve climate change, we must manage globalisation.

The biggest danger facing Earth today is the possibility or even probability of an iron curtain between China and the West. Having two systems in one world makes it impossible to solve major global issues. Michael Spence also spoke about the fact we will never go back to what the world was before. We have made huge advances in technology, particularly in Artificial Intelligence. Nevertheless, both men agreed on the fact that the key to solving the Permacrisis is good international relations and globalisation, to work together as a united world.

In the West, we have a tendency to blame countries in the Global South – particularly India and China. And while their current levels of carbon emissions are concerning, these countries have much larger populations relative to the West, and some are about 200 years behind Europe in terms of their industrial development. We cannot halt these countries too much as it would prevent their growth – this would make it impossible for their populations to rise above the poverty line, something that should be a global priority. Instead, they must be supported to financially develop in a more sustainable and green way.

One thing I was particularly struck by as I sat in Bute Hall was the positivity of the words leaving Brown and Spence’s mouths. Hope, when discussing the climate today, is rare – and while it is clear to see we are in trouble in terms of the environment, constant negativity and the idea that we are in an entirely hopeless situation is not helpful to the cause. If our politicians and world leaders act now, there is no reason that climate change is not preventable and reversible. We also do not put enough focus on the positive things currently happening to mitigate the climate crisis.

The COP28 summit of next month could create a permanent solution to climate change, or at least Gordon Brown believes it could. The former Prime Minister’s message is relatively simple – we must work together as a united world. We need to be less pessimistic, and work together towards a green world. Never lose hope, because with the right leadership, “…we can actually achieve something.”


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