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Charles Kennedy: Speech on climate change

The domestic politics of international climate change have been assuming new dimensions lately.

First, with our efforts - as Liberal Democrats - before and since the general election. Last Friday, with an audacious contribution from the new leader of the Conservative party.

I believe we can transform the politics of climate change in Britain. Climate change should be beyond party politics. The question is - can long-term cross-party consensus be achieved?

Before the general election, I began a process which sought to draw the three major political parties together on a common environmental platform. I wrote to the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties with a view to creating a cross-party agreement on the environment.

I welcomed the fact that a measure of agreement on the science and the need for domestic targets had already been achieved and suggested how that consensus could be taken forward. The prime minister dismissed this out of hand.

He has made no effort to engage opposition parties in any meaningful dialogue on the environment. Instead he demands that we fall in behind their failing policies.

The environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, seems to want to engage. But without the prime minister's support she is fighting a losing battle against Gordon Brown and John Prescott.

The Treasury continues to siphon off the proceeds of green taxes to fill up its coffers undermining most of the benefit.

The Conservatives at least began to take up the challenge. Norman Baker has worked with Oliver Letwin to see how far consensus could be achieved.

But it is the essentials that are important.

For example, on new domestic targets, on aviation and emissions trading, on energy efficiency.

Let me make this plain.

The reality is the Liberal Democrats diverge radically from the Conservatives on environmental policy. So it has not been an easy process.

The Conservatives wish to scrap the climate change levy but have offered no viable alternative. They are pro-nuclear.

The new leader, David Cameron, used his acceptance speech to call for a major new road building programme This suggests that Cameron remains wedded to the old-fashioned thinking that ignores the root of the problem.

They have now instituted an 18-month environment policy review. The Conservatives are the Johnny-come-latelies to the green agenda.

And the truth is they would have to shift radically - 180 degrees in some cases - because they are simply not credible on the environment.

Take David Cameron's speech on Friday. He made claims on the environment but carefully avoided any specifics.

At the moment, without any substance to speak of, Cameron is merely relying on the spin that has blackened Tony Blair's reputation. He has failed to realise that while the public respect Tony Blair's determination, they despise his presentational politics.

It would appear that David Cameron has learned all the wrong lessons from New Labour. And looks set to repeat their mistakes.

We want, as far as possible, to take on the challenge of climate change with all parties - including the Conservatives. But the experience so far has been disappointing.

The Conservatives must recognise the enormous challenge they face in turning themselves around. We need concrete policy changes from them - not empty slogans.

Let me make this clear.

We would welcome a Conservative conversion to the cause, but at the moment it looks and sounds opportunistic and superficial.

And let no one be in any doubt - the Liberal Democrats are not about to cede our emphatic, sincere and longstanding green credentials for some spray-on aerosol version.

And what of Labour?

Only last year Tony Blair was telling parliament that climate change was a "very long-term" threat which the next generation would face.

The prime minister had failed to grasp the urgency. Climate change is an issue not for the next generation, but for ours. Climate change is happening now. The evidence is overwhelming.

Without exception, every single person on our planet will be affected by the consequences of climate change. But it has been difficult for the prime minister to lecture the rest of the world about their environmental shortcomings.

The government's record on getting to grips with the environment here at home has undermined his position.

It is now clear Labour is way off course in meetings its own targets for a 20% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. And it is no longer certain that we will even hit our Kyoto targets.

Overall carbon emission levels in the UK rose by 3% between 1997 and 2004 and there is no indication that they are slowing down. Emissions from power stations have gone up 9% under Labour.

There has been little progress in switching over to cleaner energy alternatives. Renewable energy accounts for 20% in Italy - in the UK it is a paltry 4%.

Add to that the fact that domestic energy consumption is up;

· Aviation emissions - up - and set to keep growing;

· Transport emission - up - and set to keep growing.

Frankly, Labour in government has been an environmental failure.

It is symptomatic of the confusion at the heart of the government that the climate change review, which should have been published in June, will not now appear until sometime in the new year.

This is due to bitter divisions between the Transport, Trade and Industry, and Environment departments.

The climate change review could be an opportunity for the government to turn their record around. But in order for the climate change review to be credible, the government must institute a mechanism for the independent monitoring of efforts to achieve domestic targets.

Setting targets decades in advance cannot be the whole answer. We need binding rolling targets that show real progress to the long-term goal and map out benchmarks of achievement.

The difficult decisions over emissions reductions, traffic growth, aviation, renewable power and a whole host of other environmental issues require sustained effort over decades. Long-term political will requires short-term targets to sustain it.

One of those difficult decisions is upon us now - the issue of nuclear power.

The politics of climate change - nuclear

After two bills, three white papers, and over 30 government policy documents and reports over eight years, Labour has launched yet another energy review.

In the energy white paper published in 2003, nuclear power was described as "an unattractive option" because of the issue of cost and waste disposal. Yet it is an open secret that the new review is a political mechanism to bring forward Tony Blair's determination to invest in a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Liberal Democrats have long advocated moving away from reliance on nuclear power - and indeed on dirty fossil fuels. When it comes to nuclear power this is not about any dogmatic view on nuclear technology. This is about risks and costs.

Let me be blunt.

Nuclear power has proved itself to be grossly expensive, environmentally disastrous and an unacceptable drain on the public purse.

It is a depressing fact that British taxpayers are currently facing a £56bn bill just to clear up the nuclear waste we already have - equivalent to bill of over £800 for every person in the UK.

Will these new nuclear power stations demand the tax payer subsidies and guarantees on waste disposal that our current nuclear industry relies on? Well, the government has yet to do any serious analysis of what a new generation of nuclear power stations would cost.

They seem to believe that the private sector will shoulder all the costs. Gordon Brown has certainly indicated that he won't. So if private industry can't pay and Gordon Brown won't pay, it is likely we'll end up with a new nuclear tax on our fuel bills.

And let's not believe the myth that nuclear power is carbon neutral.

It has been estimated that nuclear power stations can generate about a third of the emissions over their life that a gas fired station does - due to the need to extract and transport uranium -itself a scarce resource.

The answer to our energy problems is not to pour money into nuclear power and build up even more problems for the future. We need a government determined to find an energy mix that is economically sustainable and works for the environment.

That means real incentives to cut demand;

· concerted action to cut out waste;

· cleaner fossil fuels;

· carbon capture and storage;

· and the kind of proper funding for renewables already being brought forward by Liberal Democrat ministers in Scotland.

The politics of climate change - international

Irrespective of changes we put in place here in Britain climate change is first and foremost a global problem and one that requires global solutions.

At the start of 2005, the prime minister said he would make the environment a centrepiece of his G8 and EU presidencies.

He announced that: "It is crucial to every country in the world that we establish a consensus now on the nature of the problem and what actions we can take." But he has not succeeded in the task he set himself.

The agreement at Montreal last week has been greeted with real optimism. The Kyoto process has been confirmed as the method by which the international community as a whole will take forward the fight against climate change.

This is a success, but only because the future of the Kyoto process, including the model of mandatory targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was in danger of collapsing. The show has been kept on the road.

It was encouraging to see the US administration - whom many see as the main obstacle to meaningful action on climate change - brought back to the negotiating table by the force of public opinion in the United States itself.

Many American governors and mayors were in Montreal at events held in parallel with the international conference and were highly critical of the Bush administration. The intervention by Bill Clinton was clearly significant.

It is clear that millions of Americans are deeply concerned about climate change. But it is also clear that the Bush administration still does not accept fully what Tony Blair described as the "nature of the problem". And when it comes to agreement on "the actions we can take" no meaningful progress has been made.

Yes, those countries already bound by Kyoto targets will now begin the process of looking beyond 2012 to the next set of targets that should be achieved. And progress was made in bringing developing countries, especially China and India, into the process.

But the reality is that many countries will have trouble meeting their current targets, let alone new ones. And those countries that are currently outside the emissions reduction system are showing little appetite to join.

India's environment minister pointed out that their emissions of carbon dioxide are only 3% of the world's total, based on 17% of the global population.

The fact is that until the United States, as the world's biggest polluter, engages meaningfully in an agreement to reduce their emissions, progress will be limited.

The prime minister's negotiating strategy with the US president has been to placate, and not embarrass, in the hope of bringing him on board the climate change consensus. In the process he has been in danger of undermining the whole Kyoto process.

During the summer the prime minister even hinted that he was moving towards the US position - that new technologies alone, and not legally binding emissions reduction targets, were the answer.

The international politics of tackling climate change cannot be based on moving backwards in an attempt to satisfy the Bush administration. It should be based on moving forward.

Internationally we can do that by pressing on with negotiations to take Kyoto forward.

I have long subscribed to the adoption of contraction and convergence - a rather technical and obscure phrase unlikely to excite the electorate - but a concept that should appeal to the traditional British sense of fair play.

· Contraction: reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.

· Convergence: sharing out equally emissions across the planet on a head, not a wealth count.

This requires an emphasis on legally binding emissions reduction targets.

It requires us to look seriously for example at recent proposals from Costa Rica to develop incentives to stop deforestation.

And it requires developing and bringing forward new clean energy technologies and transport solutions.

Any global climate change strategy must include the developing countries - especially China.

China's booming economy has resulted in the opening of a new power station every week.

As a result the Chinese are becoming much more concerned about energy security and the effects of climate change. We must capitalise on this new mood.

That means sharing the new green technologies with developing countries and drawing them into a new consensus based on contraction and convergence. Moving beyond Bush also means encouraging the new wave of green politicians in the United States itself.

We can do that by supporting the north-eastern American states that have begun an emissions trading scheme designed to mirror the EU's.

We can do that by supporting the 195 American city mayors representing over 40 million US citizens who have signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

This commits those participating cities to strive to meet the US Kyoto targets in their own communities - cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and New York.

We Europeans can learn from these American initiatives. I would like to see British cities and local authorities forge a similar agreement.

This is about creating "green cities" - local people taking responsibility for local pollution.

Planning systems should be reformed to ensure that local authority development plans incorporate targets for carbon dioxide emission reductions and that sustainability is an essential presumption within planning and building regulations. This will encourage the development of renewable energy facilities.

And we need a new urban-based energy strategy that localises energy generation with new micropower systems.

In Newcastle, the Liberal Democrat council is taking forward the "Carbon Neutral Newcastle" project to calculate and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the region.

This partnership between local government, local people and local businesses is already reducing the city's climate change impact, delivering over 15,000 tonnes of additional C02 reductions per annum.

We need to roll out "green cities" and "green communities" initiatives across the country.

If we are to transform the politics of climate change we need to demonstrate clearly that fighting climate change does not mean abandoning economic development. Far from it.

"Green cities" is about business working with the authorities.

It means finding sustainable forms of development and investment, where the economy, society and the environment are balanced.

It is not a threat to business. For business, it is an opportunity. The business which sees energy costs and production of waste going down is the business which sees its profitability going up.

I want to see a Britain that acts not at the expense of competitive business, but together with business to encourage environmental reform:

· to encourage the development of new products and processes;

· and to put Britain at the forefront of the new green revolution.


I have talked today about how we can transform the politics of climate change.

On the international stage - by looking beyond the Bush administration; and by drawing developing countries into a new and fair climate change deal which works to boost clean technologies and reduce emissions.

In Britain - by forging a political consensus for the long-term challenge of tackling climate change.

Let's be clear.

As a planet we are using up our environmental capital faster than we can replenish it. Climate change is the result. It is a threat to all humanity.

Governments around the world must start taking the tough decisions required to tackle climate change - and match their rhetoric with real environmental action.

Targets and technology.

Innovation through economic incentives.

We need to build a green market to encourage innovation. New technology is available - renewable energy, low emission vehicles, biofuels. We should deploy them with speed and urgency.

Changing attitudes and behaviour requires the kind of courage that has been lacking in political classes across the world.

We need to transform politics so that we can take on the challenge of climate change.

Posted by branner on 16. July 2012, 20:07 0 comment(s) · 12583 views

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