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 Greg Clark Greg Clark Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 4:44 pm, 5th January 2010

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement, and for the briefing that he kindly gave me in advance of the Copenhagen summit. It is disappointing that the Prime Minister is not making this statement, however. He missed questions in the House in order to go to Copenhagen early, and it is surprising that he has chosen not to report to the House on what he accomplished there. The Secretary of State and I share the view that we need to see global action on climate change. If Copenhagen showed one thing, it was that the discussions should not end there, and that they must continue.

Before Copenhagen, we said that a rigorous deal should achieve three things. The first was a commitment to limiting warming to 2° C. The second was a clear focus on adapting to climate change and on finding a dependable mechanism to finance that. The third was urgent action to preserve the rain forests. On the first, the 2° C proposal was noted, as the Secretary of State said, but the accord is completely unclear about when emissions should be cut, and by how much. On the second, it is welcome that adaptation was so prominent in the discussions, but there is no clarity on the sources of finance. On the rain forests, there was once again discussion of the issue, but nothing that could be meaningfully described as a political deal, let alone a legal framework. By any objective assessment, therefore, Copenhagen was a flop.

The question is: how do we move on from here? I wonder whether the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, in this statement today and their remarks before Christmas, have reflected deeply enough on the implications of the outcome of Copenhagen. The Prime Minister has volunteered to lead a global campaign to make the Copenhagen accord legally binding, but what precisely is it that he would make legally binding? The accord is essentially an agreement to disagree, defined chiefly by what is absent from it. It contains nothing to indicate the scale or the timing of the carbon reductions required of the world, or indeed of any particular country. Is it still the Prime Minister's intention to lead such a global campaign for ratification?

In the days after the conference, the Prime Minister said that the negotiations had been held to ransom by only a handful of countries, and that that must never be allowed to happen again. The Secretary of State clarified that this included China, but has he not missed a big point here? Does he not see that Copenhagen requires us to face up to what I think is an uncomfortable reality, so to blame China, India and other countries for wrecking a deal is futile because no meaningful global deal can be done without them? Do we not need to understand why these nations considered a real deal to be against the interests of their own people? This view is reflected in their insistence on including in the final text the declaration that

"social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and over-riding priorities of developing countries".

In other words, the implication is that attacking climate change ranks, for them, below these priorities.

This revealed preference on the part of India, China and other parts of the developing world cannot simply be overlooked or assumed away. The People's Daily reported that the Chinese Government would treat talks in 2010 on a binding global deal as a struggle over "the right to develop". Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the central issue is now how cutting current and future emissions can be shown to be compatible with development? Does he agree that for developed and developing countries alike, becoming less dependent on fossil fuels, using energy more productively and damaging the environment less is a pathway that can enhance the prospects for economic development, for prosperity through trade and for the reduction of poverty? If he does, will he accept that we now urgently need a new politics of climate change-one that can convince both around the negotiating table, as it failed to do in Copenhagen, and in the court of public opinion that the action we must take to guarantee the stability of the climate in the long term is also in the interests of both rich and poor in the short term?

Does the Secretary of State agree that three shifts from how Copenhagen was conducted are required-first, the case for action should always be based on practical rather than ideological grounds; secondly, action must not be presented in sacrificial terms, but as a set of economic and wider opportunities; and, thirdly, leaders and Ministers must see it as their mission to persuade and to unify rather than to denounce and divide?

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