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At least Dominic Raab is talking to the BBC (he’s the one who did not realise that Dover is a significant port). On the Today Programme (16 March) Raab was leading forth on a leak from the forthcoming report on ‘Global Britain’. I may have been half-asleep, but I am sure he referred to the influence of Britain coming through strength in ‘The Union’ (no issues then for Scotland or Northern Ireland), and the popularity of our Royal Family (including Megan, Harry, Andrew and the latter’s friends).
I recalled the former Australian premier Malcolm Turnbull recently mentioned a Republic of Australia? On the largesse front, I almost forgot the UK’s moral stance of giving 0.7% of GDP in foreign aid is under serious threat of reduction. I get it, charity begins at home, and anyway many beneficiary countries are so poor and disrupted that we hardly trade with them, so no need for soft influence?
Setting aside those annoying humanitarian concerns, we next consider the small issues of the future of the climate and apocalyptic destruction of humanity. Under cover of covid, Johnsonian bluster, blah and smokescreens lurk serious concerns over international trade. It started where Liam Fox failed so miserably to establish any significant deals. A more recent lesson to be learned is that trade with your nearest neighbours (such as Ireland) should not break international law. Not a good look!
But Australia is in there because the new buzz phrase is ‘Indo-Pacific Tilt’ in our trade negotiations. One commentator has likened this to Don Quixote tilting at windmills. ‘Indo Pacific’ conjures images of the Jewel in the Crown (former colony) plus the World’s largest oceanic region. The rhetoric smacks of Cold War attitudes where there are simply good guys, and the other kind. I remember at one time being invited to hate most eastern Europeans, and even Argentinians (although not communists). I can assert that some of my best friends in fact turned out to be………
‘Indo-Pacific’ of course avoids the ‘C-word’ (China) and Russia is well-situated on the other side once more. A proud citizen of Salisbury, I may have no liking for Putin, but the Russian people deserve a break, something they may yet bring on themselves. In publication of the report Global Britain in a Competitive Age, the pussy-footing around global Britain’s attitude to China is worthy of a year’s supply of ‘Kitecat’.
Rather duller, but extremely important are considerations of freight-miles clocked up through trade. Unless we can all rapidly go electric or hydrogen powered, air and sea freight have huge costs in greenhouse gas emissions as indeed they do in monetary terms. Because the geographical maritime distance only has a small statistical correlation with freight costs, it is all too easy to ignore the real costs including those on the environment. Sea freight is naturally central to bulk transportation, the problem is that large marine diesel engines are inefficient and polluting. This sector’s contribution is to atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is not straightforward, for:
‘International shipping is a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions……maritime transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions….[and] These emissions are projected to increase significantly if mitigation measures are not put in place swiftly.’
With global trade held up by the inconvenient grounding of the Panama-flagged, and Taiwan-owned ‘Ever Given’ at the southern entrance of the Suez Canal, we reflect on the fragility, sustainability and politics of shipping goods on such a scale around the world. One shudders to think of the carbon emissions produced in dislodging the monster and by the 300 waiting vessels, in addition to the atmospheric pollution that would be emitted without any hold-up.
Devils lurk in the detail, with scientists and engineers working hard to quantify and reduce emissions. The shipping sector is a long way from de-carbonisation, and it is difficult to imagine an all-electric cargo boat! However, essentially ships travelling longer distances travelled will emit more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. Despite this, international shipping is omitted from the Paris Agreement on climate change! Increasing freight distance can be greater than carbon offsets caused by technical improvements to marine engines.
And there are nuclear weapons. Simply stated Britain’s nuclear arsenal could be dramatically expanded, from 180 warheads to up to 260…….an increase of 45%, to counter other countries said to be “diversifying” their own nuclear capabilities. To a disarmer, neither can the present Labour leadership offer much comfort, beyond a will to reduce -and not build up-the nuclear arsenal of the UK.
I leave with one thought. I was once a CND stockholder for a stall in London. At a street festival, a watch of firemen just coming off shift decided to take the air. Pausing at my stand, they perused the publications, reached into their pockets, purchased some booklets and wished me well. As they moved off, I said breezily: ‘It’s fantastic that you are taking such an interest’. One turned round and replied: ‘You say that, but if one of those things went off, it would make my job rather tricky’.
Ed: Hadrian Cook sits on the Salisbury for Europe Executive Committee
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