Foreign Secretary speech on climate change

During his visit to the US, the Foreign Secretary spoke about the need to tackle climate change "for the sake of our long-term security".

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

Foreign Secretary

Thank you Secretary Kerry, John, for your kind introduction.

I am delighted to be here in Boston. This city has a world-wide reputation not only as a seat of learning, but also as a hub for cutting edge technology.

It has been a pleasure to see some of that myself at the Wind Technology Testing Centre here today.

Those of you working on low-carbon energy know that you are generating jobs and investment for the long term. But above all, you are on the frontline in the battle against climate change.

Secretary Kerry and I are in complete agreement that this is a battle we have to win for the sake of our long-term security.

When we think about keeping our nations safe, we have to plan for worst case scenarios.

In the case of unchecked climate change, even the most likely scenario could have catastrophic consequences – a rise in global temperatures similar to the difference between the last ice-age and today, leading to rising sea levels, huge movements of people fuelling conflict and instability, pressure on resources, and a multitude of new risks to global public health.

The worst case is even more severe: a drastic change in our environment that could see heat stress in some areas surpass the limits of human tolerance, leaving as the legacy of our generation an unimaginably different and more dangerous world for our children and grandchildren.

So we have to act on the climate threat.

But, by doing so, we will not just protect future generations from the worst effects of climate change we will bring tangible benefits to our peoples here and now.

We will get cleaner air, more efficient transport and cities, better health.

More than that, the technological transformation that is required will provide a stimulus greater than the space programme did 50 years ago, generating massive new opportunities for innovation, jobs and economic growth.

For far too long this debate was dominated by purists and idealists, happy with the notion that we would have to sacrifice economic growth to meet the climate challenge. We reject that. We do not accept that we have to choose between our prosperity and the future of our planet. Indeed, we have demonstrated that the response to climate change can be a generator of economic growth, innovation and quality jobs.

In the UK, 92% of business leaders think green growth is an opportunity for their own businesses.

Demand for green goods and services is growing faster than the general economy.

Globally, the green economy was worth over $5 trillion in 2012 and it is expanding all the time.

But the full range of benefits is beyond our ability to estimate. The dividends of technology are often unpredicted and unpredictable. The potential is immense. And by seizing the initiative, we can take first mover advantage.

Moreover, in addition to creating jobs and growth, embracing green technology increases our energy security.

At a time of international turbulence, this is an advantage we should not underestimate.

A newly confrontational Russia and ISIL’s assault on Iraq pose serious threats to stability, which could have knock-on effects for global energy markets, affecting us all.

Here in the US, the shale revolution has eased worries about dependence on overseas oil and gas. In the UK we are committed to exploiting the potential of shale as part of our energy mix.

But over the longer term, renewable energy sources, like those being developed here, will be critical to reducing our vulnerability to energy supply shocks.

So the benefits of addressing climate change are multiple, but it won’t happen by itself.

It requires leadership. Leadership that is now starting to take shape.

Britain is leading by enacting into our domestic law the most demanding emissions targets in the industrialised world… We have already reduced emissions by more than a quarter, putting us on track for an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

We have the world’s leading financial centre in carbon trading. And we have established the world’s first green investment bank.

Here, Boston is leading with its innovative technology.

North-eastern states collectively are leading with their Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Other states from Iowa to Texas to California are leading in their separate ways.

John, you are leading with your tireless diplomacy on this issue.

The US has begun to take on the leadership role which, as the world’s biggest economy, is essential to progress.

And there are signs that these efforts are inspiring others to follow… …With positive steps from China, India and Brazil.

This is momentum we have to harness, and increase, if we are to secure an effective global deal on climate change in Paris next year. I look forward to working with Secretary Kerry, and our partners in the European Union, in order to bring that about.

But this isn’t just about governments.

Scientists and universities are shaping the debate.

Ordinary people and civil society are helping to keep this issue in the spotlight, through actions like the climate march a few weeks ago, but also through their own individual choices as consumers, which in turn drives the vital role that businesses have to play –shaping their investment, channelling innovation to support the fight against climate change.

Both here in the US, and in the UK, business is at the heart of our approach. We will get this job done by going with the grain; by using the power of the market; by creating the necessary incentives and structures to mobilise the power and creativity of private sector business to respond to the challenges of climate change. It is a complex task, but a vital one.

50 years ago, the US showed how a strategic challenge, putting a man on the moon, could guarantee innovation through economy-transforming investments. Today, we have an opportunity to do that again in response to the challenge of climate change.

If we are to achieve our common goal of limiting climate change to two degree Celsius, we need everyone to play their part.

It is clear that we have no time to lose.

Secretary Kerry has said, “the window of time is still open for us to be able to manage this threat”, John, you are right, but it is fast beginning to close.

To counter the threat, and to seize the opportunity, we have to act now.

And by acting now, we will not only maximise our chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we will increase our resilience and create huge new opportunities for growth and innovation in our economies.

Truly a win-win outcome.

Thank you.

Media enquiries

For journalists

Published 10 October 2014