INSIGHTS: The Year for a Climate Change Breakthrough

By Tony Blair

{Editor's Note: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair delivered these remarks as part of a longer speech at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 26, 2005. The observations on climate change are excerpted here to mark the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on February 16, 2005.}

LONDON, UK, February 15, 2005 (ENS) - We may disagree about the nature of the problems and how to resolve them, but no nation, however powerful, seriously believes today that these problems can be resolved alone. Interdependence is no longer disputed. ...

However, if America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda too. It can do so, secure in the knowledge that what people want is not for America to concede, but to engage. ...

Two issues we have set aside for our Presidency of the G8: climate change and Africa. ... On both there are differences that need to be reconciled; and if they could be reconciled or at least moved forward, it would make a huge difference to the prospects of international unity; as well as to peoples' lives and our future survival. ...

There are facts that are accepted. The five hottest years on record have occurred in the last seven years; and ten hottest in the last fourteen. It is over eighteen years since the world recorded a "colder-than-normal" month. Snow cover has decreased 10 percent since the 1960s.

Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Photo courtesy No. 10 Downing Street)
Ever since Arrhenius first predicted global warming in 1896, it has been fiercely debated. I am not a scientific expert. I only see that the balance of evidence has shifted one way. Some argue this warming is part of a natural cycle such as, by contrast, the mini ice age in the Middle Ages. But glaciers are now in retreat that have not retreated since the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. The impact of climate change predicted by modellers is uncannily coming to pass, not least in the European summer of 2003.

So it would be true to say the evidence is still disputed. It would be wrong to say that the evidence of danger is not clearly and persuasively advocated by a very large number of entirely independent and compelling voices. They are the majority. The majority is not always right; but they deserve to be listened to.

However, behind the dispute over science is another concern. Political leaders worry they are being asked to take unacceptable falls in economic growth and living standards to tackle climate change.

My view is that if we put forward, as a solution to climate change, something which involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won't be agreed to. But fortunately that need not be the case. Science and technology cannot alone provide the answer. But they certainly provide the means to ensure that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without damaging our economy. Indeed over time they provide the prospect of significant business and economic opportunities.

For example, in Europe all nations have ratified the Kyoto Treaty. It will come into force on February 16. The European trading scheme is in place. This will be a powerful driver to more sustainable means of energy generation, industrial production and to business activity.

So what do we hope for the G8 whose countries, after all, account for 65 percent of global GDP and 47 percent of global CO2 emissions?

First to set a direction of travel. Whether because of the risks associated with climate change or related issues of security of energy supply, we need to send a clear signal that whilst we continue to analyse science, we are united in moving in the direction of greenhouse gas reductions.

I support the Kyoto Protocol. Others will not and that position is understood. But business and the global economy need to know this isn't an issue that is going away. My clear view, for what it is worth, is that the debate will be how and on what time scale it is confronted; not whether. I intend to make progress on this with the EU Presidency later this year as well as through the G8.

Secondly, through the G8 process I want to develop a package of practical measures, largely focused on technology, to cut emissions. And here I don't just mean research into new technologies, important though that is. I also think we need to work much harder to find ways to implement the vast range of low-carbon technologies that have already been developed. Energy efficiency. Renewable energy sources. Cleaner fossil fuels. Avoiding waste. All of this can be done, and often at a much lower cost than we realise.

Thirdly, the G8 need to work in partnership with the rapidly developing economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa to find a way for them to grow and develop as low carbon economies. I was struck by the fact that by 2030, coal plants in developing countries could produce more carbon emissions than the entire power sector in the OECD does now. Developed and emerging economies must work together over the coming months and years to reach a new consensus on how we deal with the challenge of climate change.

It is through this fresh injection of political will, by the G8 and the emerging economies alike, that these differences can be broken down and a new global consensus reached.

So that is what we will try for.

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush shake hands after their press conference in the East Room of the White House on Friday November 12, 2004. (Photo courtesy The White House)
Whatever the difficulties in moving this agenda forward, they are worth it. If we succeed there is a chance of an emerging consensus that would give so much hope and heart to so many.

The alternative is the international community with competing agendas. That may help the political art of grandstanding but it won't present constructive solutions. And the result of it, or to put it more specifically the danger of it, is that the world decides on an approach that recognises this fragmentation is inevitable, even welcome. In this way, different poles of power develop to balance each other. American and its allies here. Europe there. China, Russia, India, the larger nations of Asia and Latin America creating their own poles or moving towards shifting pulls of attraction or repulsion depending on the issue.

Of course these poles can interact; in theory they can form partnerships from time to time. But let us be clear this would not be a new global alliance. It would be a global acceptance of division; no amount of interaction will disguise that and different poles of power can just as easily choose to rival each other as co-operate with each other.

This year offers a unique set of opportunities. I am committed to using the UK's G8 and EU Presidencies to try to make a breakthrough on Africa and climate change.

The UN Summit in September will review progress on the Millennium Development Goals including the Sachs Millennium Project report proposals, and discuss the Secretary General's High Level panel report. There is the World Trade Ministerial in December; and the meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of the year. All of these opportunities must be used to the full.

{Tony Blair has been UK Prime Minister since 1997. Find him online at: http://www.number-10.gov.uk}