Thursday, 17 May 2007
The UN negotiations later this year need to build on the last 15 years of international climate talks. So how do we get a good outcome?
All Tony Juniper articles
The most important contribution that Tony Blair has made to environmental politics during this time in office has to been to propel the climate change issue into international arenas. He started this ball rolling in earnest with a September 2004 speech that signalled his intention to use the UK presidencies of the G8 and EU for this purpose. In both cases, some progress has indeed been made. This is good news, because to stand a reasonable chance of avoiding temperature increases of more than 2C (4F), then emissions need to peak and then quickly fall in under a decade.
Earlier this year, the EU heads of state signed up to an emissions reduction target of 20% by 2020. Friends of the Earth argued that to be in line with its commitment to play its part in preventing temperature increases of more than 2C that this target should have been at least 30%, and indeed the leaders said that if other countries would step up to the challenge, that the EU would be prepared to go that far. In terms of what the other big polluting countries will now do, there are two meetings this year that will in large part signal what is possible by when. The first is the G8 meeting in Germany in June and the other is the Bali UN climate change negotiations in December.
The G8 process was a calculated political move by Blair to create a "safe" discussion forum for the Americans and some of the big polluter developing countries (especially China and India). These and other nations have been terrified (for differing reasons) that they might be pressured in a formal UN process into taking on binding targets. Blair's idea was to get them talking in an informal setting where binding commitments were not on the table. This is in large part why the G8 discussions, kicked off before Gleneagles in 2005, have been so concerned with technology and trading schemes, rather than targets and timetables. Although we will ultimately need a formal agreement that sets out who is going to do what, I think this is OK, up to a point.
The G8 process has, for example, helped to inch George Bush a little further forward on the climate change question, accepting that it is happening (grudgingly) and getting words agreed about the role of technology. Having said this, the main force in moving Bush has undoubtedly been the dramatic shift in the US public opinion that has taken place in the last couple of years. From state and city leaders to the heads of corporations and from the Christian right to scientific institutions, the US establishment has moved and left the Bush administration isolated.
The president has clung to his old scepticism, however, resolutely refusing to admit an urgent challenge or the need for a coordinated global response. And that remains the case. Moving the Whitehouse to the next stage must not only involve diplomacy but also a hardening of the mood back home in the US, which is happening and which is a cause for optimism. Blair and others need to recognise this political dynamic and to build on it, not only talking with the president, but reaching out to the vast range of other US opinion formers who are fast changing the political landscape there.
Even if Bush does signal some acceptance of the science, however, it is still a big leap from there to getting multilateral agreement on targets and timetables. And this is the real danger. If Blair sees his main job as getting Bush to acknowledge the problem, then the urgent need to get a legally binding deal in the UN might, in a diplomatic and political sense, be neglected. There have been signs of this for some time. For example Tony Blair has repeatedly signalled that he sees a future Kyoto-style agreement as unachievable (definitely a US-centric view) and has suggested that something else might work better. This kind of talk is unhelpful, especially since the most important UN negotiations on climate change since the Kyoto accord in 1997 are set to take place after the G8, later this year in Bali. That meeting needs to agree legally binding targets and timetables, as well as voluntary action from some of the big developing countries' emitters, backed with assistance from the developed countries.
Getting a deal in Bali must be seen as the real prize. Certainly the G8 can be an important milestone, but the political strategy needs to see Bali as the main opportunity. If there is to be any real chance of staying below two degrees of warming, then Bali must build on the last 15 years of international climate talks, and all the finely honed nuances contained in the Kyoto mechanisms, to set out a new future deal. Of course Kyoto is flawed, but it is the best we have and it will not be replaced by a more effective agreement coming out of the G8 talks.
So how do we get a good outcome at the UN? Well the G8 can certainly contribute by underlining how the latest science dictates the need for a global response underpinned by clear formal rules. The EU can do its bit as well, by putting in place the measures to meet its own Kyoto targets, and then moving toward the more ambitious 20% recently agreed to. This needs to be done by the EU as a whole and by individual governments as well. The UK is in a good position to take a lead.
Earlier this year, Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign succeeded in persuading the British government of the need for a domestic legal framework to manage scientifically determined cuts in emissions. A draft climate change bill was published in March and is now being consulted on. It has widespread support across the political spectrum, from business and a whole host of civil society groups. If this bill is made strong, with legally binding annual emissions reduction targets, if it includes a scientifically determined 2050 reduction target (of at least 80%) and if it includes international shipping and aviation, then it will be a genuine source of leadership and will undoubtedly lend credibility to British efforts to secure a global deal.
To move forward on climate change, the world will still need individual leaders to show the way, however. When Tony Blair steps down, who will take up the torch to light up the climate change issue on the global political stage? Angela Merkel is one contender. Perhaps too is Gordon Brown, although he has shown relatively little interest in the issue, certainly compared to his work on poverty alleviation. But he could do it, if he wanted to, not least on the back of domestic leadership coming from a good bill turning into a strong act of parliament, and thus gaining what Tony Blair has sometimes lacked: the credibility that comes from taking decisive action yourself.
Whoever seeks to fill Blair's boots on this subject will perhaps have the most important political legacy in all of human history, for whoever can broker the breakthroughs needed on climate change has the opportunity to save human civilisation. I think that is a legacy worth having.
Sunday, 13 May 2007
That this House notes the Channel 4 broadcast of the documentary The Great Climate Change Swindle; notes the content of the programme, which brought together leading scientists who disagree with the consensus that carbon dioxide is the cause of rising global temperatures and included comments by the right hon. Lord Lawson of Blaby; further notes that one of the contributors received a death threat and that the contributor who stated that anyone not agreeing with the orthodoxy of how climate change levy comes about sees their public funding drying up; believes that it is vitally important that there is as much open debate as possible on all sides of the argument over what causes climate change; deplores any attempt to stifle this free debate; and congratulates Channel 4 on the televising of this detailed, informative and authoritative contribution to that debate.
That this House observes that action needs to be taken now to combat the devastating potential effects of flooding upon homeowners, businesses and local authorities; notes the findings of the Foresight - Future Flooding study from the Office of Science and Technology that, if no action is taken, the annual cost of damage in England and Wales due to coastal flooding is likely to increase by between £1.0 billion and £13.5 billion by the end of this century, depending on the rates of socio-economic and climate change; welcomes the observation by Sir Nicholas Stern that `Adaptation is the only response available for the (climate change) impacts that will occur over the next several decades before mitigation measures can have an effect ... (and that) governments can contribute through long-term policies for climate-sensitive public goods, including ... coastal protection and emergency preparedness'; recognises that Government funding of flood management has, after the necessary and welcome real terms rise of 35 per cent. from 1997 to 2005, remained almost flat since 2005, at a little over £570 million per year; further notes the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report on the Environment Agency, published in May 2006, which concluded that flood defence spending should rise to £1 billion per year in the long term; and therefore calls upon the Government to commit itself to a sustained year-on-year growth in spending on flood management in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.
leave out from `emissions' to end and add `regrets that the Prime Minister has failed to persuade his colleagues, notably the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that global warming requires firm fiscal action; notes that the poorest 10 per cent. of households have expenditure on energy that varies by a factor of six due to different vintages of boiler and home insulation, so that any system of personal carbon trading allowances must avoid aggravating inequalities; urgently calls on the Government to address the enormous and involuntary variations in energy use through a programme of promoting energy efficiency and eliminating fuel poverty much more ambitious in scope than that currently pursued; and urges the Government to explore practical and fair means of incentivising domestic greenhouse gas reductions.'.
That this House congratulates the Prime Minister on giving international leadership on tackling climate change; urges the Government to go further and faster in seeking international agreements and strategies to stop the continued increase in world carbon dioxide emissions; believes that 550 parts per million carbon dioxide concentration in air would be an unacceptably dangerous level; and urges the Government to seek international support for measures to establish a floor on carbon pricing which will promote investment in relatively carbon free technologies for energy generation.
That this House recognises the pivotal role of tropical forests in sequestering and storing carbon; notes that forest destruction and degradation accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and that the poorest 1.2 billion of the world's population depend directly on forests for their livelihood, and that about 50 per cent. of all known species live in tropical forests; regrets that illegal and unsustainable logging, and the continuing conversion of tropical forests to agriculture, threaten these biodiverse habitats and their role in maintaining climate stability; further regrets that the Kyoto Protocol and European Emissions Trading Scheme do not recognise carbon credits for avoided deforestation, afforestation or reforestation in developing countries; urges the Government to heed Sir Nicholas Stern's call for this mistake to be rectified in negotiations for new regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and further urges the Government to create a regulatory framework that stimulates voluntary carbon markets and attracts immediate investment in managing forests for the benefit of local communities, biodiversity conservation and the planet.
That this House congratulates the Prime Minister on making climate change a priority for the UK Government; believes that, for this issue to transcend short-term political cycles, policies must be introduced which both include and, more importantly, engage every individual in tackling global warming and assuming some personal responsibility for their emissions; and notes that, in practice, a system of personal carbon trading would provide the most equitable, efficient and effective way of encouraging this development, and would create the necessary relationship between individual and global action.
That this House notes that the European Parliament Environment Committee has recommended an 80 per cent. cut for EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; further notes that a bill presented in the US Congress, namely the Safe Climate Act, calls for emissions cuts of 80 per cent. by 2050; notes that to achieve a global cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent. places a greater responsibility and deeper cut on developed countries; notes that the Council of Environment Ministers on 17th October 2002 declared that to achieve the long-term objective of containing the temperature rise to two degrees celsius would `require a global reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases by 70 per cent. compared with 1990, as identified by the IPCC'; and calls upon the Government urgently to review its 60 per cent. target and replace it with a target more likely to solve the problem of climate change faster than it is being created.
That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to zero carbon housing by 2016; notes that the way homes and buildings are heated in future will have to change due to the increased pressure to reduce carbon emissions and the need to reduce energy costs; further notes that the forthcoming Energy White Paper provides an opportunity for the Government to aid planning authorities to assess new building carbon footprints by setting low carbon grid electricity milestones; and calls on the Government to extend and formalise the carbon projections in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Market Transformation Programme until 2050 to achieve this and aid housing planning policy.