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This Divided Coalition Makes Progress on Climate Change Harder, Not Easier

Posted: 06/12/2012 10:11

This week the UN climate change conference in Doha comes to a close. Alongside the news of a royal baby and the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, it is likely that the fine detail of these negotiations will pass the majority of people by.

Yet figures published this week showing that global carbon emissions from industry have risen 2.6% over the past year, along with the increase in extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, huge flooding in Brazil, China and Australia and super typhoons, mean that while climate change may not always be front page news, the urgent need to tackle it remains.

When Labour was in government Britain led the way during similar international climate change conferences and signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. During the 13 years that followed, the urgent need to tackle global warming and build a low carbon economy remained a priority.

Thanks to this record of progress at home, UK ministers were able to play a key role in previous climate negotiations abroad, challenging other countries to match the action we ourselves were taking.

We were the first nation to put climate change at the heart of the G8 and to call a UN Security Council meeting on climate change. While domestically Labour passed the Climate Change Act - a world first, legally binding the UK Government to reduce carbon emissions by a third by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. We also doubled renewable energy generation and established Britain as a world leader in offshore wind capacity.

This year is different. Despite the hopeful rhetoric, the ministers and officials who flew out to Doha this week know they are leaving behind a government that is deeply divided over climate change policy. Whether it's John Hayes and Ed Davey's clash over wind farms, George Osborne's dash for gas or David Cameron vetoing the appoint of a new DECC permanent secretary (because he was seen to be 'too green'), the Prime Minister's pledge to lead the 'greenest government ever' is lying in tatters.

This division not only risks jobs and growth that should be in this country going overseas - investment in clean energy has fallen by more than half in the UK since this Government came to power - it also restricts ministers' room for manoeuvre during this week's negotiations.

How, for example, can Energy Secretary Ed Davey ask other countries to decarbonise their energy generation, when (unlike Ed Milliband who was the first party leader to commit to doing so) he can't promise to do the same?

And is it realistic to expect Conservative Minister Greg Barker to be taken seriously when calling for the EU to commit to reducing its carbon emissions 30% by 2020, after Conservative MEPs voted against this in the European Parliament last year?

Despite the lack of fanfare surrounding Doha, there is still much that can be achieved with the right leadership. So what is needed is for ministers to present a united front at the conference.

At the end of this year the original commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol finishes. The bare minimum outcome needed from the conference is a finalised agreement to a second protocol period. This was agreed to in principle last year at the Durban conference, but the detailed negotiations as to how long a second period will last and the size of individual countries' budgets have been left until now.

While an extension of Kyoto isn't perfect - it still falls far short of the badly needed global agreement that is crucial to limiting the growth in the earth's temperature to 2 degrees - let's hope this can be achieved. A second commitment period is vital to bridging the gap until a global agreement can (hopefully) be agreed by 2015. But be in no doubt, our Government's deep divisions over climate change and the low carbon economy makes achieving this harder not easier.

 

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