Secretary of State speech to the AVOID symposium on climate change
Check against delivery
Let me start by congratulating all those involved in the AVOID programme on their hard work over the last four years:
Highlighting the challenge we face in tackling climate change;
Identifying the potential impacts.
This has been a unique multi-disciplinary research programme.
Including the Met Office, the Walker Institute, the Tyndall Centre and the Grantham Institute among others.
And it has been an impressive demonstration of successful collaboration between academia and Government.
And it has had concrete outcomes.
For example, materially supporting the UK’s international engagement and informing our negotiating position at Copenhagen and beyond;
Contributing to the UN’s Environmental Programme with robust, credible and timely research;
And supporting the setting of our carbon budgets.
Listen to the experts
It is fair to say that trust in politicians is not something the public has in abundance.
That is why, when it comes to climate change, it is so important that all the rigours of the scientific method are applied.
That it is the science that drives policy.
And that we hear loud and clear from the experts.
When the scientists tell us that the evidence proves that smoking is addictive and can cause a whole host of deadly medical conditions from emphysema to heart disease, we believe them.
We try to give up, we hope our children never start.
When scientists tell us to that prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultra-violet rays can lead to cancer, we believe them, because their views are based on strong evidence.
We take precautions, we avoid sun burn, we cover up, use sun cream.
So if we have this trust in scientific evidence, why would we make an exception when it comes to the science of climate change?
When it comes to assessing the health of our planet’s eco-system – we should listen to the scientists – and we should believe them.
The message of the science
We heard earlier from the Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington, and from other distinguished guests about the overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change.
Overwhelming evidence, yes.
But of course there are uncertainties.
You are scientists.
You know that good science is all rightly cautious.
Not jumping to conclusions based on weak evidence, but identifying uncertainties and from them learning more about how systems work and change.
So, I understand that, what we don’t know is at least as important as what we do.
Good science is questioning, sceptical, analytical – testing theories and understanding risks.
Two hundred years of good science - teasing out uncertainties, considering risk - has laid the foundation of what we now understand.
It screams out from decade upon decade of research.
The basic physics of climate change is irrefutable.
Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere and cause changes to the climate.
Human activity is significantly contributing to the warming of our planet.
Sir John talked about some of the impacts that are already being felt.
While we would not want to attribute every extreme weather event to climate change – the pattern is building and the costs are rising – the human costs and the financial costs.
The costs of the 2012 floods here in the UK could easily top £1bn.
And last month the US Congress passed a $50bn bill for relief for those affected by Superstorm Sandy.
As President Obama said last month:
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
And Sir John also talked about how our hope must be to limit climate change – preventing us passing a potentially catastrophic tipping point - a great threat to life.
Because the stark fact is this – climate change is happening.
We can’t reverse it, but we can limit it.
AVOID highlights the importance of keeping temperature increases below 2C
To do so global emissions need to be reduced urgently and sustained deep cuts are required long term.
This points to the importance of a comprehensive global deal in 2015.
It may be as I mentioned earlier that the art of politics is not greatly revered.
But we will need every piece of political artistry we can bring to bear to make sure that we translate this scientific understanding into concrete and effective action to keep climate change within manageable levels.
Action based on the science, the risks and the impacts.
Action to deliver a low carbon way of life.
Rewiring the global economy, becoming more resource efficient while continuing to deliver the economic growth that improves people’s lives.
So let me turn to the actions we are taking, first, here in the UK, and the actions we are taking with our European partners on the world stage.
Getting ahead in the green global race
Over the last decade in the United Kingdom, there has grown and solidified, a political consensus for domestic action to curb our emissions, and for seeking a legally binding international treaty to provide for the same at a global level.
What we have done here in Britain has been quite an immense achievement.
It has not been easy and it has been a long journey in which all political parties have, at times, shown courage and leadership.
We can all be proud of the Climate Change Act of 2008 - the first comprehensive economy wide climate legislation of its kind.
Committing the UK to achieve at least an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.
With 5 year carbon budgets to help us stay on track.
And robust accountability with independent auditing through the Committee on Climate Change.
The latest estimates for the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 show a 7% fall compared to 2010.
Yearly figures can fluctuate depending on a number of factors from the state of the economy to the state of the weather.
But the overall trajectory is in the right direction, recording emissions reductions of more than 25% since 1990 – the base year measure for the Kyoto Treaty.
The real prize, the real prize, is to design in long-term emissions reduction through systemic change.
Designing out carbon.
And that is where this Coalition Government has been building on the framework created by the last Labour Administration.
Putting muscle and flesh on the bones of the Climate Change Act.
Turning theory into practice.
Taking forward the practical polices that will create a low carbon economy.
Maximising energy efficiency by overhauling the housing stock through the Green Deal.
Setting up the Green Investment Bank to leverage private sector investment into low carbon.
And now before Parliament a new Energy Bill - an ambitious long-term plan for a major reform of our electricity market to help ensure we deliver on our emissions reductions commitments, and attract the right investment for low carbon infrastructure – creating jobs and growth in the process.
Too often, we are told that those who go low-carbon first will sacrifice their competitiveness.
But as the Prime Minister set out last week, reaffirming our shared commitment to being the greenest government ever:
“We are in a global race and the countries that succeed in that race, the economies that will prosper, are those that are the greenest and the most energy efficient.”
The real danger we face is being outpaced by other countries who are investing in clean, low-carbon economies.
This is a boom market of £3.3 trillion, growing at 3.7% a year, with investment in renewables outpacing that in fossil fuels.
For our businesses this means opportunities, for our governments tax revenues, for our people jobs, for our societies insulation from the volatility of fossil fuel prices.
So this drive for low-carbon energy is a real engine of growth for hard-pressed economies around the world.
We are not alone
The UK is not alone – we are not somehow risking our competitive edge because others aren’t doing their bit.
Over the next year, I will be part of a concerted push by like-minded countries at EU level to commit to a 30% reduction target in 2020 and to agree a further strong emissions reductions target for 2030.
And looking wider than Europe, I recently attended the GLOBE International legislators summit.
The GLOBE study catalogues the action already being taken in over 30 countries.
South Korea creating the legislative framework for emissions reduction targets, cap-and-trade, carbon tax, carbon labelling, carbon disclosure, and the expansion of new and renewable energy.
Australia’s Clean Energy Act, and now linking its emissions trading system to the EU’s.
China adopting targets to decrease both the energy intensity and the carbon intensity of its economy by 2015.
And I am encouraged by President Obama’s inauguration address in which he challenged America to claim the promise brought by low carbon technology – new jobs, new industries, economic vitality.
So those who advocate the view that ‘no one else is doing anything, so why should we’ have not opened their eyes to the real world.
Of course incremental, nation specific action is very welcome, but we need to sustain and increase the emissions reductions on a global scale over the long-term.
AVOID has shown that to achieve a 50% chance of limiting warming to 2°C, global emissions need to peak in the next few years and be followed by rapid long-term reductions.
Some look at the negotiations for a legally binding successor to the Kyoto Treaty and despair.
I am given hope: The Doha conference in December 2012 has re-affirmed the international commitment to reaching a 2015 agreement.
I am given hope, by the actions taking place all around the world in developed and developing economies, that we can agree a global, binding treaty, because it will be the next obvious, natural step to consolidate the actions we’re already taking.
And I am given hope by our human ingenuity – to find a way through problems and develop solutions.
And this brings me back to the politics and the science.
We now have three critical years leading to the end of 2015 to get the international politics aligned.
To bring into agreement those representing the huge mega economies of Europe, America, China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan – those representing developed countries and developing countries, those representing the most threatened by climate change, and those who believe, quite wrongly, they are cushioned from the impact.
Politicians have to make balanced choices.
Meeting their responsibility to look after the interests of those they directly represent, while trying to work for the greater good.
The result is rarely clean and neat.
But it is much easier to come to a reasonable and altruistic position if the technological challenge is in hand and the results are beginning to show.
So my message is this.
We can’t leave this to the politicians to save the planet.
This has to be a whole of society effort, and no contribution will be more crucial than that of the scientific community.
Conceiving solutions, engineering new efficiencies, bringing new energy sources to the market.
We share a positive vision of a green, clean energy and transport – and a better, healthier way of life.
And the progress of science will help us get there.
Thanks to programmes like AVOID the science, the risks, the impacts and the way ahead have never been clearer.
You know, when I am confronted by some of the most dogmatic and blinkered people who deny that climate change is happening, I am reminded of the sentiment of the famous USA Today cartoon.
“If we really are wrong about climate change, we will have created a better world for nothing”.
In reality, those who deny climate change and demand a halt to emissions reduction and mitigation work, want us to take a huge gamble with the future of every human being on the planet, every future human being, our children and grand children, and every other living species.
We will not take that risk.