Climate change: "our values, security and prosperity compel us to act"

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to Climate Change Attaches at the Climate Change and Energy Conference in London on 27 June.

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. I am delighted to welcome you all and my colleague, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, to this Climate Change and Energy Conference.

The British government is staunchly committed to tackling climate change and to putting Britain’s energy security on a sound footing for the years to come. The two issues are intertwined, and are directly linked to our security and prosperity. The work of our climate change and energy attaches is part of core FCO business.

The coalition agreement sets out our commitments to developing low carbon technologies, promoting domestic energy efficiency and working towards a globally binding deal on climate change. Being good examples of this ourselves makes us more credible when we call on other countries to take action. That is why I supported the government’s recent decision to cut ambitiously our greenhouse gas emissions through our fourth carbon budget. It has been clear from our attaches reporting that this decision has been noticed around the world.

There can be no more urgent priority for the nations of the world than securing an effective response to climate change; our values, security and prosperity compel us to act. Countries hit first and worst by climate change will be some of the poorest and least well equipped to respond. The pressures on resources created by climate change will exacerbate conflict and instability and our networked economies mean the impact of climate change and problems of energy supplies in one region affect the prosperity of those thousands of miles away.

If those are the factors pushing us there are those that should be pulling us too. Tackling climate change brings economic opportunities. In the UK our low carbon and environmental goods and services industry is worth £112 billion a year; which is currently ranked 6th in the world with considerable opportunity for growth.

Governments also face difficult decisions surrounding energy security, on the role of gas in the future; the part nuclear will play following the catastrophic events in Japan that have affected attitudes in some countries to the nuclear industry; and, with democratic movements sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, the resulting political instability creates new issues of market volatility and rising oil prices.

We will work to reduce our demand for hydrocarbons but in the medium term, countries such as ours will remain dependent on oil and gas. It is clear that the high oil prices, driven by demand from emerging powers and instability in the Middle East could damage the UK’s, and indeed, global, growth. So we will maintain and build our relationships with major energy partners such as Qatar and Norway and work for a better environment for investment in potential suppliers such as Iraq.

At the same time we need to lift our eyes to the challenge of the transition to a low carbon global economy. Time is against us on climate change, we cannot afford to stand still. The strategic setbacks for international efforts at Copenhagen necessitate a redoubling of our efforts; now is not the time for modest goals but for grand ambition.

Looking ahead, we hope to see a discussion at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on climate diplomacy. With the EU accounting for only around 10% of global emissions we need to use our collective diplomatic weight in the fight against climate change. It is vital that, at the UN climate conference in Durban at the end of this year, we build on the progress made at last year’s conference in Cancun.

If negotiations are to be successful our diplomacy will need to help shift the global debate on climate change. We must continuously make clear the threats and opportunities that are likely to arise from climate change in order to build a global consensus on the scale and urgency of action.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office therefore has a critical role to play. That is why all our British Ambassadors are well versed in the arguments for a global low carbon transition; our delegates to the United Nations draw on a myriad of bilateral networks to work to bring forward international consensus; our commercial diplomacy supports Britain’s low carbon industry to break into new markets; and our missions in Brussels and in capitals across Europe continuously advocate greater EU ambition.

At the front line are our attaches, leading the drive for progress on climate change and energy security around the world; working to share UK expertise with other countries, for example helping China deliver its targets on reducing carbon intensity and working with the Indian Government on designing and delivery an important energy efficiency scheme.
So this climate change and energy diplomacy is at the heart of our foreign policy and the work of this Office. We have real influence on these issues through our global diplomatic network and our work is internationally recognised as world leading. Those efforts, combined with that of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the MoD and British industry are vital for guaranteeing Britain’s security and prosperity and upholding our values. I commend you all for the work you are doing and look forward with hope to what we can achieve.