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Getting back on track


Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Last year’s summit in Copenhagen was a setback for all of us who care about the effects of climate change. But it must not become an excuse to give up the search for a global deal. Climate change is global — and willing or unwilling — we’re all in it together. We cannot protect ourselves unless we are also prepared to protect each other.

The reason Copenhagen did not deliver on high expectation was a lack of political will for each country to take the necessary actions, and make the necessary compromises. The responsibility rests with all of us — political leaders in developed and developing countries alike. Without commitment and movement on all sides, we will never achieve the progress we are looking for.

The development of the UNFCCC demonstrates the unique role the United Nations, with its convening power, can play. In an area where there had been absolutely zero global governance, the United Nations has raised international awareness and worked for many years to bring countries together to try and solve the problem. But we have to show in Cancun that the United Nations Framework is capable of getting us back on track towards a global deal. In other words, we have to rebuild trust and find a way to bring the unwilling in; not shut them out.

I think there are three things we can do that will give us the best chance of making progress.

First, we have to make the case for acting on climate change at every opportunity. As foreign secretary William Hague said in his recent speech to the United Nations, we have to use the power of diplomacy to put climate change at the heart of foreign policy. We should be great advocates of green growth and the tremendous opportunity of a low carbon market already worth £3.2 trillion and forecast to grow by around 4 per cent a year over the next five years.

At the same time, we have to explain to people the way that climate change is expected to intensify extreme weather events. The water shortages in Africa, the floods in Pakistan and the mudslides in China are just a foretaste of what it could bring. The effects of these isolated events are not contained by geography. The drought in Russia this summer, for example, damaged the wheat harvest, leading to a surge in world prices which hit the poorest hardest and triggered riots in Mozambique. We have to show that acting on climate change, however difficult, is in the interest of all, not just some.

Second, we have to lead by example in our own countries. We cannot ask others to make commitments, especially in the developing world, if we don’t take our carbon reduction and renewables targets seriously. In the UK I am determined that my administration should be the greenest Government Britain has ever had, and that we will make a low carbon revolution one of the defining legacies of the Conservative- Liberal Democrat coalition.

This means a radical step change in cleaning and greening the supply of energy within the UK — with reform of the electricity market and the introduction of a Green Investment Bank to support investment in the low carbon infrastructure Britain needs. It also means ambitious plans for a massive increase in renewable generation capacity, new nuclear build and the development of carbon capture and storage projects. The UK is already the world leader in offshore wind — with more projects installed, in planning and in construction, than any other country in the world. And we are looking at all the options for facilitating low carbon generation in the future.

Acting at home also means changing how energy is used. Our Green Deal is a revolutionary programme which will give every household in Britain access to home energy efficiency improvements at no upfront cost, cutting household energy bills and making every home energy efficient. And I’m determined my Government will lead by example. That’s why in my first week in office I pledged that we would cut 10 per cent from Central Government carbon emissions in the first 12 months of this administration.

Third, we need to identify specific ways in which we can make progress on international action that will rebuild confidence and shift the momentum back towards efforts to reach a global deal. More than 120 countries have now associated themselves with commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord. We must each honour them, and use them as a base on which to build.

So we must develop the framework for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; strengthen the measurement, reporting and verification arrangements, which will ensure progress on emissions is transparent; and set out the structures for climate finance beyond 2012, including for the commitments in the Copenhagen Accord to establish a Green Fund.

The Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Climate Finance is due to report just before the Cancun meeting, and needs to set out the practical options for a credible path towards the $100 billion per year the developing world will need in long-term finance by 2020.

We should also bring emissions offers made since Copenhagen into the United Nations process. And where we have some regional influence, we should try to push for even stronger offers. In the UK, for example, we are already pressing for the European Union to move to a 30 per cent target for reducing carbon emissions by 2020 — without waiting for the rest of the world to act.

But we should also ensure the conversation does not just focus on emissions but also encompasses biodiversity and erosion of ecosystems. We must also focus on the huge opportunity of helping developing countries make a direct leap to low carbon — avoiding the high-carbon era that has dominated the developed world — helping to reduce energy costs and improve the standard of living for millions of people.

None of this will deliver for Cancun the success people had hoped that Copenhagen would achieve. But it could just change the momentum and provide the foundation to get back on track in moving towards an inclusive international deal, with developed and developing countries both playing their part. That is the only kind of deal that can turn the ubiquitous threat of climate damage into the universal opportunity of low carbon high growth for all.

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