Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 5th January 2010.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 4:44 pm, 5th January 2010

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about December's Copenhagen climate change conference, at which I represented the United Kingdom alongside my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Today I want to report back to the House and set out where we go next in the global battle against climate change.

Let me say at the outset that the outcome of Copenhagen was disappointing in a number of respects. We are disappointed that Copenhagen did not establish a clear timetable for a legal treaty and that we do not yet have the commitments to cuts in emissions that we were looking for. However, I also want to report to the House the significant progress that the accord agreed at Copenhagen marks and explain how we can build on the progress that was made.

The Copenhagen accord, which is available in the Library, was agreed by a group representing 49 developed and developing countries that together account for more than 80 per cent. of global emissions. The key points of the accord are as follows. It endorses the limit of 2° C in warming as the benchmark for global progress on climate change. Unlike with every previous agreement, not just developed, but all leading developing countries have agreed to make specific commitments to tackling emissions, to be lodged in the agreement by 31 January.

Also for the first time, so that we can be assured that countries are acting as they say they will act, all countries have signed up to the comprehensive measurement, reporting and verification of progress. On finance, significant commitments have been made by the rich world to developing countries. They include fast-start finance worth $10 billion a year by 2012, with a total of up to $2.4 billion from the UK, and specific support to tackle deforestation. In the longer term, the accord supported the goal, first set by the Prime Minister, of $100 billion a year of public and private finance for developing countries by 2020.

By any measure, those are important steps forward, but we know that the world needs to go much further. We need more certainty and a greater scale of ambition. So the urgent task ahead is to broaden, deepen and strengthen the commitments that were made in Copenhagen, drawing on the large coalition of countries that wanted more from the agreement. Broadening the commitments is vital. Forty-nine countries signing up to the agreement is not enough. To tackle the global problem, we need a wider group. The United Nations is seeking to persuade all countries to sign up to the accord, and the UK is determined to play its part in making that happen.

In addition, we must act to deepen the commitments on emissions made by countries across the world. Lord Stern has shown that if nations make the biggest emissions cuts in the range that they have put forward, we can be within striking distance of the two-degree pathway that we need, including with the peaking of global emissions by 2020. We know that that is in our economic as well as our environmental interests. Greater certainty about emissions is necessary to provide the strongest incentive to business, including through the carbon price. So we will work to persuade other countries that we all need to show the highest levels of ambition on emissions as part of the commitments that we make. For Europe, provided that there is high ambition from others, that means carrying forward our commitment to moving from 20 to 30 per cent. reductions by 2020 compared with 1990. We must also act to strengthen the accord, including by continuing our efforts to secure a legally binding framework. In taking on clear commitments and actions, we should recognise how far major developing countries have come in the past year. However, we must also seek to allay their concern that they will be constrained from growth and development by the demands of a legal treaty.

We must draw on the coalition between some of the world's richest developed countries and some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable developing countries, such as Ethiopia and the Maldives, all of which want a legally binding structure. Strengthening the accord also means that richer countries must make good on the promises made on fast-start finance and show that we can fully fund the longer-term goal of $100 billion, one of the tasks for the high-level panel on sources of revenue that was agreed in the accord.

Those efforts to make progress on substance must, in our view, be accompanied by reform of the process of decision making. The conference was held up by disagreements over procedure: which text negotiators should look at and whether, as in Kyoto, a representative group of countries could be formed to avoid having to discuss everything in a plenary of 192 nations. Those disputes about process meant that it was not until 3 am on Friday, the last day of a two-week conference, that substantive negotiations began on what became the Copenhagen accord. By then there was simply too little time to bridge some of the differences that existed. We need to find better ways of running the process of negotiation, so I welcome the UN Secretary-General's decision to look again at those issues.

We also welcome the decision by Chancellor Merkel to host a conference as part of the mid-year negotiations in Bonn, and we will work with the incoming Mexican presidency, which will be hosting the next conference in November. But dialogue and negotiations need to restart before June-something I made clear to Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the convention on climate change when I met him in London just before Christmas.

In looking back at Copenhagen, we must bear in mind that reaching agreement would inevitably be tough because we were seeking consensus among 192 countries. Like most ambitious efforts, it was always going to be difficult to succeed the first time round. However, we should not let frustration with the two weeks at Copenhagen-albeit justified-obscure the historic shift that this past year has marked.

I want to pay tribute in particular to the enormous effort of those in the UK, from the scientific community, civil society, British business and the general public, who have mobilised on climate change. Their ideas and energy helped to drive us forward over the past 12 months and during the Copenhagen conference itself. Let me assure them and the House that we are determined to strengthen and sustain the momentum behind the low-carbon transition in the UK. Building on our low-carbon transition plan, our world-leading policy on coal and our plans for nuclear, we will be making further announcements in the coming weeks and months on energy generation, household energy efficiency and transport. Following Copenhagen, as part of the work already ongoing on the road map to 2050, we are looking at whether further action is necessary to meet our low-carbon obligations, and we will report back by the time of the Budget. This will include looking at the advice of the Committee on Climate Change published last autumn.

Internationally, thanks in large part to the deadline of Copenhagen and the mobilisation behind it, every major economy of the world now has domestic policy goals and commitments to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, South Africa and, of course, the EU. Throughout the world, policy is now set to improve energy efficiency, to increase investment in low-carbon power, to develop hybrid and electric vehicles and smart grids, and to reduce deforestation.

So although Copenhagen did not meet our expectations, 2009 did see the start of a new chapter in tackling climate change across the world. This global shift might not yet have found international legal form, but scientific evidence, public opinion and business opportunity have made it irreversible. In 2010 and in the years ahead, this Government-and, I am sure, the vast majority in this House-are determined to ensure that we redouble our efforts to complete the unfinished business of Copenhagen.

Climate change remains the biggest global challenge to humankind, and it requires a global solution. We owe it to our children, their children and the generations to come to find it. The work has started, it will continue this year, and I believe that it will succeed. The fight against climate change will be won. I commend this statement to the House.

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