Climate Change: Politics, Economics and Partnerships

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

Mark Simmonds spoke about climate change at Chongqing University, highlighting the challenges and opportunities for China and the UK in tackling climate change.

Distinguished guests, lecturers and students. Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to be in Chongqing today.

And thank you Mr Ou for that kind introduction.

I am very grateful to Chongqing University for hosting me today. I am delighted to be here, and of course to follow our Prime Minister who came here to speak to you some time ago.

Chongqing University has an excellent reputation both here in China and in the UK, and I was very pleased to hear of the links with UK universities and institutions. My attendance here today demonstrates the importance we attach to such links

This is my first time in Chongqing. Before I left London, I spoke to colleagues who have been here. They told me of the city’s geography, its expansion, and its people….

But nothing could have prepared me for Chongqing’s environment, the scale of the fastest growing urban centre in the world, or the warmth of the reception I have received.

I think your story epitomises the vast and unparalleled success of China in the 21st century. A vibrant municipality of 30 million, eclipsing easily London or New York. Still the ‘epicentre of the energies remaking the world’.

In fact, China will, the end of the decade will have 200 cities, each with more than a million residents. The UK will have five.

But despite these differences, many of the challenges we face are the same. Population growth, urban planning, transport, affordable housing. And of course, climate change.

They cross national borders, as freely as they cross academic disciplines - making them particularly relevant to those of you here today.

So I want to focus if I may on the biggest of these - climate change. And to put forward the argument that climate change is an absolutely core national and international political issue; that it is both an economic challenge but also an opportunity; and finally, that the UK and China are natural partners in addressing this important challenge.

We now know – because the IPCC, an international panel of scientific experts, has told us - that climate change is not a conspiracy.

I had dinner last night in Beijing with Chinese scientists who contributed their own expertise to the report.

It is not a myth;

It’s not science fiction – it’s science fact.

Climate change is man-made.

And, without concerted international action, the IPCC confirmed what thousands of people all over the world - including in the UK and China - already know: that unmitigated climate change poses significant risks to human health, global food security, and economic development; access to water, political stability, and the potential for significant migratory movements.

I know from the communities I represent in the East of England - an area of stunning coast and countryside - that the climate is affecting lives. Some of you may have seen that the UK has just suffered its wettest winter since records began. In the UK, crops were ruined, animals lost, homes destroyed, businesses disrupted and infrastructure damaged. I had some in my constituency in east England in December. The UK’s total bill could reach 12.6billion RMB.

And I know Chongqing too is vulnerable to extreme weather: from the drought and heat wave of 2006, to the intense rainstorms of 2007 and the bitterly cold winter of 2008.

Extreme weather is fast becoming the new norm.

And while we cannot categorically know that climate change is the cause, we do know that citizens are becoming more environmentally conscious. They are feeling the effects of extreme weather and pollution - in London just weeks before the London marathon, runners were advised not to exercise outside, in Paris drivers can only use their cars on alternate days and across China, air pollution has been linked to the premature death of more than a million people.

The need to act could not be more clear, or - indeed I would argue - more urgent. And it means that climate change needs to be at the heart of debates about national and international political economy.

Because, it also makes economic sense too.

One of the measures china was forced to take to cut pollution was to restrict licences for new factories. The floods here and in the UK had a devastating human and economic impact. Clearly this is not sustainable.

In fact the economic cost of climate change has been calculated to be possibly up to 20% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, now and projected forward to the future.

Huge numbers.

But it doesn’t cost the earth to save the planet.

The IPCC suggested that moving to a low carbon economy now would cost the world 0.06% in growth.

Given the costs benefit analysis of failing to act, it is hardly surprising that the leading world economies are investing heavily in the technologies and processes which will drive a low carbon transition. The global market for low carbon goods and services is worth in excess of £3 trillion - and growing at a healthy 4% per year.

China is rightly investing heavily in clean and efficient technologies - expanding the global market for these goods and services will provide new opportunities

So I want this afternoon to get beyond costs, and talk about the need to go low carbon as an economic opportunity. And it is an area where Britain and China are leading the way, and where a deeper partnership could multiply our mutual benefits.

We know that the green economy means jobs, growth and prosperity. In the UK alone it could be worth £20billion to the economy over the next few years - in addition to the £23billion companies could save by using resources like energy and water more efficiently.

That’s £43billion in savings and growth.

Now if you extrapolate and consider the size of the UK economy compared to China’s - or even Chongqing’s – a economy, imagine the potential economic growth, efficiency savings and improvements to quality of life that could be made here.

I know that business and governments at all levels across the region, and the country, are making every effort to solve the modern conundrum of urbanising and modernising in a low carbon way - and there are some fantastic examples of energy being used efficiently that business in the UK could take heed of, such as capturing the waste heat from cement kilns - which given the amount of building work going on Chongqing there could be significant learning for the UK - and turning it into power.

And similarly, the UK has expertise and experience which could be of use across China and particularly in addressing the 47% of all greenhouse gas emissions that come from the energy sector.

The UK’s climate is ideal for offshore wind power generation.

We’re taking advantage of this – and now have the world’s largest installed capacity in offshore wind. More wind turbines than the rest of the world combined. The sector has more than doubled since 2010, growing at a spectacular rate, and we are using the knowledge we have gained in partnerships, including with China.

Last year we took another step forwards in our Strategic Partnership on Offshore Wind with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. This covers policy development, technology transfer, personnel training and market access, all of which are essential for both countries to accelerate development and really get things moving to ensure that progress is being made.

Similarly, on nuclear power, the UK and China have agreed to share experience and facilitate greater scientific and company co-operation and exchanges. Chinese investment has paved the way for a major new facility in Somerset in the west of the UK, which could provide a huge 7% of the UK’s energy when complete, hopefully in 2023. This would not have been possible without the co-operation between our two countries. Meanwhile, British companies are bringing their experience and expertise in the UK energy sector to support China’s own massive building programme.

Carbon capture and storage is another area which offers significant potential carbon savings, and great potential for collaboration between our two countries. To the scientists here, I apologise for the description which is about to follow. But for the non-scientists: think of it as putting a cup on top of a chimney to stop the carbon emissions escaping in to the atmosphere. It has been called a ‘super cure’ for our climate change disease.

But, if I am honest as I stand here this afternoon, it is expensive. So joint research like the work that will be undertaken in our two new UK-China Carbon Capture and Storage Centres is essential if we are to get the costs down and ensure the technology is rolled out widely – both here and in the UK, and hopefully in third countries as well

In order to get the most out of these amazing technologies, we need universities - particularly those like Chongqing with its focus on science and engineering - and we need students like you: the leaders, thinkers and scientists of the future - to continue to develop, implement, and enhance the next generation of low carbon, or zero carbon, technologies; and to fight for a better environmental inheritance.

It is clear that no one nation alone can ease the pressure.

Decisive, robust, immediate action is needed.

Activity must be taken by as many countries and people as possible. And in this we hope to find in China, a staunch and dedicated ally.

The imperative to work together towards a global framework for ambitious climate change action is clear, since this can support all of our efforts to bring about low carbon transitions in our own countries

Inevitably, any talks which involve 195 countries are going to be tough. But to be credible and effective we need a legally binding international agreement that applies equally to everyone, under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change. And, with major talks in Paris next year to agree a global deal, now is the time, and we have a real opportunity.

And I fear it may be our last chance.

So, climate change is at the heart of national and international politics, and there has perhaps never been a more exciting time to be involved in climate diplomacy.

I hope you as the future group of China’s natural and political scientists will see this as an opportunity to influence things for the better and to leave to your children a cleaner, less polluted, more sustainable world than the one you have inherited.

I hope you see the strong arguments in favour of UK-China collaboration. We can both share the benefits of strong action, and will both suffer the consequences if we fail to act.

In 2007, when he was leader of the opposition, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, stood in this University and pledged to strain every sinew in the effort to find viable and affordable green technologies. And, thanks to continued Chinese partnerships, we are doing exactly that.

All of you in this room and beyond have a role in driving this important bilateral work, and in driving a low carbon transition.

Thank you for listening.

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