Evening Standard comment: Britain is united – we must act now on climate crisis; Time to get on with HS2; Brilliance at the Almeida


We are often told that our society is fractured. That our political system has become angry. That people are losing hope in the power of doing things together to create a better future. That populism from the extremes is on the rampage and reason is on the retreat. But we should remember that there’s another side to Britain too, and it’s shown today in a poll we publish revealing record levels of public concern about climate change.

Of course, looked at one way this isn’t good news at all.

We’ve experienced record temperatures this summer, as well as floods and storms. The proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any point for 400,000 years, and going up fast. Climate change threatens life as we know it.

But as today’s poll for the Standard from Ipsos MORI shows, the encouraging news is that the people of this country recognise the crisis for what it is, we are remarkably united on the fact, and we want action in response.

It shows that 85 per cent of adults are concerned, and the proportion who say they are “very concerned” about climate change has jumped to a new record of 52 per cent, up from just 18 per cent five years ago.

That’s a massive shift — and a basis for action. It contrasts with much more divided views in other developed countries which also play a big role in global emissions, such as the United States and Australia, both of which have leaders who have made scepticism about climate change part of their populist pitch.

In Britain, by contrast, a commitment to action is one of the few things on which every major political party can agree. It’s shared by Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. By the UK and the European Union.

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As one of her last acts in office, Theresa May committed Britain to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — meaning the country will aim not to add carbon to the atmosphere — and Mr Johnson has confirmed he supports that.

Given how divisive climate change politics can be elsewhere in the world, that’s a remarkable thing.

Of course it doesn’t mean Britain will actually get to net zero or that people will tolerate big changes to the way they live to meet it.

It is easier to support something that sounds far away than pay higher taxes or drive less today. But it’s a good start.

Time to get on with HS2

We need a transport system which works and has room for the future. That’s why we need HS2. Does the Government agree?

Today it has launched what it says will be a quick independent review. Given that it’s headed by a former boss of the project, it’s unlikely to call for it to be cancelled.

But his expert and critical panel has been set some punchy and intelligent questions about when it will be built, where it will stop and what it will cost.

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Expect plans for a station at Euston to be challenged, a bigger focus on early work in the north of England, later opening and a bigger bill.

The risk is that the project is picked away at until it’s not worth building at all. Parliament has backed it. Building has started. It’s fair to check progress.

But this is no time to go wobbly.

Brilliance at the Almeida

Few directors can breathe new life into old plays with the same confidence as Robert Icke, whose final production as associate director of the Almeida Theatre proved a triumphant swansong.

In The Doctor, a reimagining of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 drama Professor Bernhardi, starring the peerless Juliet Stevenson, which opened last night, Mr Icke was not afraid to shy away from complex, thorny, thoroughly modern ideas — it won over our chief theatre critic, Nick Curtis, who called it “utterly brilliant”.

Mr Icke once ruffled thespian feathers when he admitted that he often walks out of shows at the interval because most theatre is too boring.

That’s not a problem he needs to worry about in his own work.

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Read more Climate change fears gripping Britain with 85% worried about warming