The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for energy and climate change
“Durban must build on what Kyoto began”
A year ago, in a swirl of pessimism, the UN held negotiations on climate change in Cancun. After Copenhagen, it seemed that the principles of international cooperation itself were on trial. Expectations were low. But out of the acrimony arose a new consensus. The world agreed to keep global warming to below 2C.
This is significant. The world does not agree that often. We have few global agreements - and just one global organisation. Next week, the UN will convene the next round of talks on a global climate treaty.
Last year, our focus was to keep the show on the road: as long as you are talking, there are options. But time is running out. As the International Energy Agency noted this month, the window for meaningful action on climate change is now measured in years, not decades. The science tells us we must bring down global emissions by 2020.
In Cancun, we began to put in place the global architecture to monitor emissions and support developing countries in tackling climate change. But a more fundamental question went unanswered. Where are the international talks heading? Are we moving to a legal agreement committing major economies to emission targets, or merely to a framework for voluntary national pledges?
My answer is simple: a global deal covering all major economies is a necessity. Governments need the certainty that their competitors will be taking similar action. A new treaty was important enough to both coalition partners that it featured in our Coalition Agreement last year.
There is, of course, already a legally binding deal in place: the Kyoto Protocol. In 1997, 37 major economies formally committed to cutting emissions. The EU has already surpassed its Kyoto target.
The first Kyoto Protocol commitment period ends next year, however, and several countries have already said they will not enter a second. If the EU alone signs up, accounting for just 12 per cent of global emissions, then we won’t have achieved much.
What we need is for all major emitters - from industrialised countries such as the EU, US and Japan to emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil - to commit at Durban to a comprehensive global legal framework, and to complete negotiations as soon as possible and by 2015 at the latest.
Together with the rest of the EU, I have made it clear that the UK is keen to secure a second commitment period of Kyoto. But this must be accompanied by the legal framework the world needs. Ultimately, Durban is about the movement others make.
If we have learnt anything from the financial crisis, it is that clear rules implemented properly can prevent the toxic build-up of risk. A recent survey of large global firms found that 83 per cent of business leaders think a multilateral agreement is needed to tackle climate change. Businesses want certainty; only the politics lags behind.
A commitment to a new agreement will provide that certainty - and Kyoto provides the basis of the rules we need to manage a destabilising climate. Durban must not be the end of Kyoto, but a chance to build on what it began.
We recognise that it will take time to negotiate this new agreement. So we also want immediate action. Current voluntary pledges to reduce emissions are not yet enough; in Durban, we should agree that we must close the gap, building momentum towards a major review of ambition.
We must build the system we use to measure and verify emissions cuts. We must do more on long-term financial support for developing countries, and agree how the new Green Fund will operate. And we must continue the work already under way to reduce emissions from deforestation.
Above all, we must show leadership. Next year I will continue to press for a more ambitious EU emissions target: a 30 per cent reduction by 2020. That will help us raise our sights globally.
Milton Friedman once said: “our basic function is to keep good ideas alive until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable”. That is a good description of the task that awaits in Durban.
The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change.