The Great Climate Fight is ground-breaking television. Not only does it set out a pragmatic economic case for pushing for net zero carbon emissions – household heating bills would be a lot lower for one thing – but it’s also one of the few recent current affairs broadcasts to cast Boris Johnson in a positive light.
“When Boris was prime minister at least there was something of a green agenda in No 10,” explains Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud. Under Rishi Sunak, attitudes toward protecting the environment have turned more negative, he says. “There’s too much fear-mongering, too much pain. [Sunak] implies there’s too much sacrifice in getting to net zero. There’s certainly not enough about the potential benefits.”
TV about climate change can be grim. Given the stark reality of global warming, it’s easy to despair. But The Great Climate Fight, fronted by McCloud, TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and business guru Mary Portas – who have all been vocal on environmental issues in the past – is an entertaining and straight-talking show that offers hope.
Each of the three comes at the problem from a different angle: McCloud looks at housing insulation and argues poor standards mean Britain “wastes a fortune on gas bills”; Fearnley-Whittingstall sets out the case for scrapping a de facto ban on onshore wind farms, which he says would lower reliance on fossil fuels; Portas looks at the Sixth Carbon Budget, an official document which sets out how the UK can reach zero carbon by 2050, and asks why the Government isn’t working harder to hit those targets.
“What if I told you that solving the climate crisis is possible,” says McCloud, setting out his stall at the top of the programme. “The problem is our politicians.”
He then crashes a house industry conference to confront the boss of one of the UK’s biggest home-builders over their indifference towards eco-friendly new builds and the government’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2050.
McCloud is promptly chucked out by the organisers. Blinking in the daylight, he seems relieved more than annoyed that the ordeal is over. The naturally chummy McCloud is no Jeremy Paxman; doorstepping a bullish business leader isn’t in his DNA.
Fearnley-Whittingstall has more success attending an address by Grant Shapps, currently Secretary of State for Defence but previously energy security secretary.
He courageously interrupts the banter and bonhomie with an awkward query about the wind turbine ban. Smoother than an oil slick, Shapps batts away the question. “There is no actual ban,” he says, though he acknowledges fewer turbines are being built. He adds that any reform to the regulations around turbines must “bring the community and the public with us”.
The Great Climate Fight tries to embarrass the Prime Minister over his climate change record, but stumbles slightly. Portas teams up with film-maker and prankster Oobah Butler. They hatch a scheme to deliver to Sunak the Sixth Carbon Budget, planning to disguise the book as a new novel by Sunak’s favourite writer, Jilly Cooper.
The plot lands with a thud. There’s no evidence that Sunak ever read the report, despite Butler delivering it to him at both 10 Downing Street and his £2m North Yorkshire home (the one with the 40ft swimming pool). It’s the closest the broadcast comes to juvenile stunt TV.
It’s a rare fumble. The Great Climate Fight generally strikes an intelligent balance, making serious points about global warming.
Climate justice is often regarded as an issue for young people. How encouraging to see three middle-aged campaigners take the fight to the government – while getting into some arresting scrapes along the way.