Photo credit: CIFOR
Following yesterday's demonstrations in Newcastle and other major cities around the world, including the powerful 'empty shoe' protest in Paris, climate negotiators will be getting down to work today in that city at the start of the 21st conference of the parties to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - more commonly known as COP21.
It was in Copenhagen in 2009 that I first participated in these global climate talks - at COP15. I was there representing European manufacturing workers - and calling for an ambitious, binding agreement on emissions reductions and for negotiators to take into account the social consequences of either their inaction or measures to tackle dangerous climate change. For without a fair deal which promotes social cohesion, job creation and investment, action to tackle climate change risks failure to gain public acceptance, particularly in those areas and sectors at the 'coalface' of the transition.
Then as now there was much anticipation of a breakthrough and an international agreement. A key difference between Copenhagen and Paris is the estimated space left before global temperatures rise above the 'safe for humanity' scenario of +2°C by 2100. According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), which brings together peer-researched climate science, our window of opportunity is narrowing rapidly.
The reality of changing weather patterns and the visible impact of climate change seems to be concentrating the minds of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases on reaching a deal. Governments in the USA, China and Canada seem to have dramatically altered their positions on a global deal. This offers our collective negotiators an historic opportunity to show that as a species we are able to recognise a long-term existential challenge and innovate to preserve ourselves and our vital ecosystems.
That's why it has never been more striking to see domestic UK political direction directly in conflict with the scale of global challenges: as the world calls out for more renewable power and clean tech and our competitors make the investment needed, the Tories have pulled the rug out from under our nascent energy efficiency and climate-friendly technologies and industries.
Without a proper industrial strategy, we are forced to watch the tragedy of a country that taught the world the technologies of the industrial revolution now being forced to buy in the technologies of the clean revolution. The only result will be a dramatic loss of jobs in our potentially clean industries and greater dependence on services: and all from an economically illiterate government that calls for a 'March of the Makers'.
On the eve of the Paris climate talks, British businesses broke cover. Last week a string of major employers, including Vodafone, Nestlé, Unilever, Panasonic, British Telecom and Marks and Spencer warned Cameron that the string of renewable energy cutbacks unveiled in recent months pose a direct risk to UK businesses. This is the message I have received from businesses across the North East, who need clear regulation to support long-term investment.
Last week's announcements of further cuts by George Osborne will only serve to undermine further attempts at a fair transition in the UK. Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has been clear that the UK will miss key EU targets on renewables and energy efficiency.
Since my first COP in Copenhagen, I have been fighting for a Just Transition to a low carbon future. This demands proactive industrial policy to maintain and create jobs whilst protecting the environment. The market has failed to deliver so it is up to government to step in - greening jobs and industries by using regulation and incentives to support innovation alongside investment in the best available technologies. While our industries adapt, we must defend manufacturers from social and environmental dumping and prevent the loss of jobs to polluting competitors.
Last week, I spoke in the plenary in Strasbourg about the need to modernise our trade defense measures in this respect. The UK government is currently blocking these reforms at EU level, once again placing itself on the wrong side of history. Alongside innovation policies, training programmes are needed to support workers adapting and to improve energy efficiency in all workplaces. Yet worryingly, IPPR research recently found the UK's in-work training has fallen by four percentage points since 2008, the largest drop of any EU country.
But where politicians have abdicated their responsibility or failed to deliver in every great justice fight of the past, brave campaigners and lawyers have picked up the gauntlet.
In June this year, the Urgenda case concluded with a court ordering the Dutch government to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 25% by 2020, relative to 1990 levels. The ruling is the first successful climate change case in the world. It is also the first time a court has determined the minimum target for emissions reduction for a developed country.
In Paris, negotiators and our leaders should not drop this baton - the stage is set for a global deal. It must reach our ambitions for halting global temperature rises and implementing sustainable green technologies that will protect our planet, all the while reducing energy prices and creating jobs. The UK government would be foolish to waste this historic opportunity to tackle climate change and provide a much-needed boost to British industry, and to go into retreat as the rest of the world looks forward to a better, greener future.
Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England