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I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you ahead of the third inter-parliamentary conference on climate change organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The Association is an excellent means for parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to share ideas, work together and foster better relations between our countries and I’m very grateful to them for organising this conference.
I am pleased at the breadth of discussion this conference will encompass, from looking at science in the policy debate, the role of negotiations under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and how partnerships with civil society, faith groups and local government can yield benefits.
This government is committed to giving the Commonwealth unwavering support. As William Hague said in his most recent foreign policy speech “We are fully committed to working with our Commonwealth partners to reinvigorate that organisation and help it develop a clearer agenda for the future”. That is why gatherings such as these are so important to us. We must fully use them to test our ideas and debate the best way forward in the challenges we all face.
Climate change is one of the most important challenges the international community must deal with. There are risks in global warming for all of us and we all have a responsibility to avoid the effects of dangerous increases in global temperatures.
While science does not yet give us 100% certainty about the timelines involved, the scenarios that are likely to emerge from rising global temperatures are deeply disturbing:
- A rise in sea levels will affect critical infrastructure and will impact on the two thirds of the world’s population living near coast lines.
- Increased water shortages will make feeding the world’s growing population more difficult as well as being a spur to the uncontrolled movements of people.
- Competition for resources could increase, presenting an existential problem for those involved and a security challenge for many others.
In short, we cannot ignore these effects which will impact on both developing and developed countries - although we are fully aware that some of the poorest countries in the world will be hit first and hardest by the negative effects of climate change.
This is particularly important to me as Minister responsible for Africa. I am very aware that African countries and people have the most to lose from the impacts of climate change. It is in our interests to ensure that the most vulnerable benefit from positive progress towards a global deal and funding for adaptation through climate finance.
The British government is keen to play its part. Prime Minister David Cameron wants this government to be the greenest ever.
We stand by the Copenhagen Accord and want to see ambitious action to ensure that global temperatures do not rise by more than 2°C.
We have already made a start. The UK will commit £1.5 billion in assistance between now and 2012 to help other countries to reduce emissions, in a way that does not threaten their growth, and to combat the negative effects of climate change.
And the coalition government is committed to pushing the EU to reduce its emissions by 30% on 1990 levels by 2020. We believe this goal for the EU is realistic - it would cost just 0.1% of EU gross domestic product more than the original pre-recession estimate of achieving 20%.
Britain will be at the forefront of the EU’s effort. Because the EU includes richer and poorer member states, we will be doing more than many others in the Union. At present, under the EU commitment to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020, the UK has promised to reduce its own emissions by 34%. Should the EU move to 30%, the UK will reduce its emissions by over 40%.
We are also working with our European colleagues to achieve the best possible outcome at the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun in Mexico in November and beyond to South Africa in 2011. I hope I will have a chance to get your views on where we can work together to achieve this.
Our ambition is matched by our realism. We know we must ensure that a low carbon high-growth scenario becomes a realistic prospect. We want the poorest economies to grow and we must ensure that the development that is necessary to pull millions of people out of poverty is not stalled.
But this can never be an excuse for inaction on climate change. We need the right incentives for low carbon growth to help create the investments, exports and jobs we need to help spur our economic recovery.
We must focus on growing the green economy and incentivise business to develop the technologies of the future and exploit the technologies we already have to promote a low carbon, high-growth world. I believe that there are real opportunities for business in the new green economy. It is excellent to see that the conference will address partnerships with business.
But business is not the only group essential in driving action on climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Across civil society - from legislators to academic institutions, from trade unions to Non-Government Organisations - increasing numbers of voices are calling for ambitious, global action on climate change. And we recognise just how important this is, because without a clear mandate from societies, delivering practical action on climate change is not possible.
Throughout the Commonwealth, parliaments are echoing those voices, lobbying governments to take action on climate change. And we applaud and welcome the vital role parliaments undertake in pushing for committed and urgent action to tackle this most serious of threats.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, working alongside the Department for Energy and Climate Change and DFID has a key role to play on climate and the international climate change agenda. You will hear from Stephen O’Brien tomorrow and we greatly value DFID’s contribution. We have an extensive network of diplomats working on climate change across the globe and William Hague recently announced the reappointment of John Ashton as Special Representative for Climate Change. They will be at the forefront of this government’s ambitious climate change objectives.
We will continue to make the case for high ambition with our friends in the United States, China, and many others.
We know we don’t have all the answers and that is why we are keen to keep the conversation going. I hope that when those who have come from overseas to participate in this conference return home, they will speak to our embassies and give them your impressions, but more importantly, I hope you will also speak to fellow parliamentarians to encourage them to take this global challenge seriously and aim for high ambition in taking effective action to tackle it.
I’m sure that this conference will be a success and once again thank the organisers for their efforts in putting it together.
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