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The UK Was Leading on Tackling Climate Change - So Why Is the Government Now Failing to Act?

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UN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE
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Four years ago this week the UK parliament passed the Climate Change Act and I felt immensely proud that the UK was leading the way in tackling climate change. Yet as world leaders gather in Doha for the UN Climate Change talks, it's hard not to feel pessimistic.

The act was a world first - including legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 in order to play our part on keeping the global temperature increase down to 2C. However, despite the legal commitments and the daily strengthening of the underpinning science, four years on the stark warnings keep coming. This month we've seen a flurry of reports from well-respected organisations signalling growing alarm over the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and our inadequate response.

Price Waterhouse Coopers has raised concerns that we are heading for at least 6C degrees of warming rather than 2C; the World Bank has said that without further action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the world is likely to warm by more than 3C above the preindustrial climate; the International Energy Agency has stated that no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed before 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2C goal, unless carbon capture and storage is widely deployed.

Although the UK's Act was a remarkable achievement, as we mark its fourth anniversary, David Cameron, who once pledged to lead the "greenest government ever", is nowhere to be seen on what I still believe is the most important issue of our times - responding appropriately to the climate challenge.

Here in the UK, instead of heeding the evidence from major respected organisations with global reach, there has been disarray over the crucial Energy Bill, with the Treasury seemingly determined to undermine the Department of Energy and Climate Change and weaken commitments to renewable energy and carbon targets.

Why is it that the government does not seem prepared to do what it takes to tackle this most urgent and serious of problems? While I welcome the announcement to fund renewable energy projects to help the UK to meet its legal obligations, why have ministers backed away from the crucial requirement to set a target to decarbonise the UK's energy's system by 2030? This is a fundamental omission, given its importance in delivering the requirements of cutting the UK's emissions in line with the Climate Change Act which promised so much.

WWF - the organisation for which I am a UK ambassador - took Mr Cameron to the Arctic six years ago to see the effects of climate change first hand. Despite his seeing the consequences and acknowledging them then, for the past six years WWF has been calling on him to show leadership on this issue and he has not. He has remained silent when he should have spoken. His and the government's silence shows that this government does not take climate change seriously and will not show the leadership we need. The government is happy to sing patriotically that 'Britain rules the waves' while taking no action to prevent the waves from ruling us.

As well as the long term need to take firm action on climate change for a safe planet, the UK government's failure to act is also unhelpful to the economy. Companies need to see long term commitment from the UK government if they are to invest and create thousands of highly skilled jobs here. The recent Green Alliance report to which WWF contributed, showed clearly that companies are already taking responsible decisions in the fields of energy and waste and their actions are outperforming other parts of the economy. Why are we not seizing the moment?

From where I sit in Wales it is encouraging that all parties in the Welsh Assembly are committed to cut emissions by 40% by 2020. However, our ability to meet this target could now be in doubt, given the UK government's reluctance to set the decarbonisation target.

The UK government must also do more to foster international agreements to tackle climate change and the opportunity offered by Doha must be grasped with both hands. I am pleased that the Welsh government will be represented and I hope that this, the 18th conference of its kind, will be able to get countries to renew the pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made in Kyoto in 1997 and secure new pledges from developing countries. Most of all, it must lay the foundations for fair, ambitious and binding global agreements to be adopted by 2015.

I hope that I will be able to tell my children and any future grandchildren that we never gave up urging the UK delegation to take a lead role in seeking these agreements, on which the wellbeing of the whole planet depends.

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