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IPCC Report: A Tipping Point for Political Action

05/11/2014 16:36 GMT | Updated 05/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The new climate science report from the UN offers cause for hope. It confirms we still have the chance to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and to secure major social, economic and environmental benefits by slashing our carbon emissions and making the transition to a zero carbon economy.

It's clearer than ever that we need to phase out fossil fuels, making a decisive switch to clean energy. Politicians can either keep listening to a small number of polluting fossil fuel companies, who're keen to profit from keeping us hooked on oil, coal and gas, or they can listen to the majority of other voices from civil society to business calling for an urgent switch to low and zero carbon heat and power. We cannot afford to burn the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves. The report warns of "severe, widespread, and irreversible" climate impacts if we do.

But perhaps the most important message is that the main barrier to action isn't lack of money or lack of technology. From my inbox and conversations with Brighton residents, I know it's not lack of public support for bold action on climate change either. It's lack of political will.

The UN report makes clear we need a rapid transformation to a clean energy system, not more tinkering around the edges of business as usual. It's no longer good enough to have policies to cut carbon in one part of the economy but to ignore others. It doesn't add up to say you want UK leadership on climate change and that you're proud of the Climate Change Act whilst backing airport expansion and the creation of a whole new fossil fuel industry in the form of fracking for shale gas.

There are some opportunities coming up for political leaders to show whether they understand.

First, the Government should be going all out for renewable energy: it's popular, it improves our energy security, and costs are falling rapidly. This includes reversing the reckless decision to end subsidies for solar farms. The Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, admitted there's no real evidence for her claims that solar arrays are displacing food production. Moreover, with policies of support rather than sabotage, solar farms could generate 60GW of generation capacity by 2030, enough to power the equivalent of 18 million homes and support almost 50,000 jobs across the British solar supply chain.

Second, the Infrastructure Bill needs radical amendment. At the moment, it promotes high carbon infrastructure such as new roads, and contains a provision to maximise UK oil and gas production. Instead, home energy efficiency, to end the scandal of fuel poverty, should be at the top of the UK's infrastructure priorities, alongside renewable energy, public transport and zero carbon, affordable homes. As the Danish Minister of Climate Energy and Buildings said: "This report convinces me that we need to phase out fossil fuels sooner than we thought". How many Ministers and shadow Ministers agree?

And third, we must put vulnerable communities at the heart of our response to climate change - in the UK and internationally. The UK must commit to the UN green climate fund to help poorer countries adapt. The Government's position on the post-2015 development goals must include support for a standalone climate change goal. Renewable energy is not unaffordable as the fossil fuel giants would like us to believe. The costs are plummeting. Globally, poor countries going for wind and solar at twice the rate of rich ones. Here in the UK, we must deal with the root causes of fuel poverty and re-write the rules of the game: taking power back from the Big Six energy companies and putting people, not just profit, at the heart of our energy system. The Energy Bill of Rights, launched recently by Fuel Poverty Action, sets out a radical vision to achieve this.

Climate change demands a collective response. We can't expect other countries to act if we don't. And as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: "Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act; time is not on our side."