Newsmaker: Green light - Dr Ashok Sinha Director, Stop ClimateChaos

Anita Pati

Urging people and governments to change so the climate doesn't.

In a rare unguarded moment, Dr Ashok Sinha speaks of his childhood.

"I remember when I was a kid, I used to play football in the street," he says. "Now children can't do that where I grew up, because people are scared of the traffic."

The director of Stop Climate Chaos is a seasoned political activist.

An Amnesty board member and Jubilee Debt Campaign co-ordinator, he believes traffic reduction will return childhood to children.

Sinha hopes Stop Climate Chaos, launched last month in a blaze of publicity, will appeal to the wider public's as yet largely unvocalised demand for a safer and cleaner quality of life.

The group of 18 organisations, ranging from Christian Aid and the Women's Institute to Friends of the Earth, has an ambitious mission: "to build a massive coalition that will create an irresistible public mandate for political action to stop human-induced climate change". To this end, it will pressure the Government to keep to global gas emission targets - and try to capture the public's imagination.

Sinha grew up in east London, the son of an Indian communist father and a politically minded mother. At 15, and "to the chagrin of the headmaster", he was showing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament films to his classmates.

In the sixth form, he became fascinated by renewable energy.

"I was reading a lot about how the oil economy would pose problems for the world," he says."And I was interested in how developing countries could access energy to help eliminate poverty and produce prosperity.

"Renewable energy seemed an indispensable part of that mix."

He went on to gain a degree in physics and a PhD in renewable energy, before doing scientific research at the University of Reading and Imperial College, London.

For Sinha, climate change and poverty are inextricably linked. He is keen to change the belief, particularly among overseas aid organisations, that SCC is solely a green movement.

"The international development community must be concerned about climate change if it wants to see its objectives realised," he says. "If it fails to address climate change, the campaign to end poverty will be critically undermined."

Since September's high-profile launch, the coalition has largely kept quiet. Sceptics wonder if it will ever mirror the success of other big campaigns such as Make Poverty History.

Sinha says it will slowly build its critical mass through government lobbying, demonstrations and media partnerships over the next five to seven years. The goal, he explains, is to work towards the next Kyoto event, in 2012.

"We told people in advance that the idea was to get our name on the map and become known before the year is out," he says. The first campaigns and communications work will begin in the first half of 2006.

For now, Sinha adds, the focus is on coalition members learning to work together and building up the team - currently two - at the campaign's London headquarters. He is now in talks with trade unions and Islamic bodies before he approaches "the big humanitarian organisations" to join.

Sinha's focused speech falters only when asked how green he is personally.

Would anti-poverty campaigners be asked about their fair trade purchasing habits, he wonders. "This shows how green issues get right to the heart of our lifestyles," he says. "You can campaign on other political issues without changing your life at all. This is why climate change is different."

After three minutes of prevarication, Sinha reveals that he cycles everywhere, uses a renewable electricity supplier and is conscious of his home energy use. He's back on track, his credentials assured.

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