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Climate Change - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 3:25 pm, 6th February 2020

My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven for concentrating my remarks in this extremely timely debate—for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton—on the international negotiating challenges presented to this country by its chairing of the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow in November. It is a formidable challenge, all the more so as it comes on the heels of the relative failure of COP 25 in Madrid at the end of last year. We need to avoid being proprietorial about this. Chairing a massive international conference such as this does not mean you own it, nor that you can hope to fashion the outcome to your will and to fit your interests—but if it turns out a failure, even a relative failure, you can bet your bottom dollar that this country will get a disproportionate amount of the blame.

I declare an interest as having been at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where I worked for a team headed by the Prime Minister, Sir John Major, and the noble Lords, Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Blencathra. Since that promising start, there have been plenty of warm words about checking and reversing climate change and all too little effective action to achieve it. Current trends mean that, if we cannot break out of that contradiction at Glasgow, the chances of mitigating —let alone reversing—climate change will slip away from us and this world will be faced with increasingly damaging consequences for us all.

The first requirement for success is that there must be a team effort, not just an occasion for burnishing our own national image. That will mean working closely with our Italian partners, with whom we are sharing the chair during 2020. You do not hear an awful lot about that in government statements, though I recognise that the Italian Prime Minister was here this week. It also means working as a team with the United Nations, because this is a UN process—not just a national one—and there is a mass of UN expertise, from scientific to negotiating skills, that could play an integral part and needs to be harnessed, not marginalised, in any team effort.

The other requirement is to realise that this is a political process involving national decisions to be taken at the highest political level in every country involved. Important though the technical aspects of dealing with climate change are, they will not cut through if the politics are not right. That means our own Government getting involved at the top level—that is to say, the level of the Prime Minister—and our team being headed up at a level that would ensure access at the top level to Governments all around the world. In that context, and without wishing to comment on the personal aspects of it, I welcome the Government’s recent decision to upgrade the leadership of our team. Since climate change policy is not a party-political issue, would it not be sensible to put together a team that cuts across party lines and disregards them, as the French did in the run-up to the Paris conference? The UN has shown us a really good example of that by the inspired choice of Mark Carney to head up their team.

In the major diplomatic effort that will have to be made, we can hope for no help from our closest ally, the US, but can we attempt to persuade President Trump at least not actively to cut across our efforts, which if successful would, after all, benefit the US every bit as much as the rest of the world? We will need to bring it home to our friendly countries, such as Saudi Arabia and India, which played an unhelpful role in Madrid, that a repeat of that will not be without consequences or pass unnoticed. At every stage we need to work in a co-operative partnership with China, without which we have little chance of success. Of course, the engine room of any successful campaign will be our recent partners in the EU, without whose solid and active support we will get nowhere. That is quite a challenge for 2020, but one to which we have every interest in rising.