As things stand, the world is plainly not on track to keep the global temperature increase from climate change below two degrees centigrade, which is generally regarded as global warming’s danger threshold.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said last week that at best, current commitments would take us somewhat short of half way towards a climate safe trajectory; and a World Bank report published the same week showed some of the dangers of a world warmed by 4°C. Anyone who engages seriously with the science is right to be concerned.
But I would identify four reasons to be hopeful. First, if we act we can still avert climate change’s worst impacts. Both the UNEP report and an International Energy Agency report published the week before said that time was running out, but that 2 degrees is still within reach if we can muster the political will.
Second, the international process may be slow, but it is delivering. Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009, countries representing 80 per cent of global emissions have made economy – wide pledges of action. We agreed at Durban last year to work to a 2015 deadline for negotiating a new legally binding global deal, and I believe that it is reasonable to aim for step-by-step progress towards that deal, beginning in Doha.
In addition to agreeing a high level workplan towards the 2015 global deal, I want to see some concrete actions to reduce emissions before that, adoption of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol with robust accounting and transparency arrangements for those not in Kyoto, and to give developing countries comfort on the continuing provision of finance.
Third, we have seen serious action by many countries, including some of the big emitters. Globe International has reported that legislation is moving forward in all major economies. Brazil has reduced deforestation by around two thirds since a peak in 2004. Korea is spending two per cent of its GDP on the low-carbon economy. China has embedded energy efficiency and renewables targets in its latest five-year plan, and is testing carbon markets in seven of its provinces.
In the UK, our Carbon Budgets provide a clear pathway to our 2050 target of an 80 per cent emissions cut. We are acting on energy efficiency and smarter infrastructure. And I have recently introduced an Energy Bill which will give investors and industry the attractive framework and the certainty they need to deliver the huge infrastructure investment that the UK’s energy sector needs.
As a result, we are on track to meet the milestones set by the EU Renewables Directive and to deliver enough renewable generation capacity to source 30% of the UK’s electricity from renewables by 2020.
In the EU, I will continue to argue next year that going from a 20% emissions cut in 2020 to 30%, adopting longer term targets in 2030, and a renewed focus on the benefits of the Green Economy will provide the clarity and confidence so many of our businesses are demanding of us.
Fourth, this action is underpinned by important changes in the real economy. According to Bloomberg, global investment in renewables outstripped fossil fuels for the first time last year. We are seeing new renewable energy technologies break into and compete successfully in the market place. Solar PV has averaged 42% annual growth globally over the last decade; onshore wind has averaged 27%.
In some markets, some solar technologies have come down in price by as much as 75% in only three years, and are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of Africa and south Asia. Companies such as Unilever, Vodafone, Walmart and Kingfisher are setting ambitious targets to make their supply chains more sustainable. This isn’t just a marketing ploy: rising resource scarcity and climate stress means that sustainable, resilient production makes good business sense. As we saw in Rio earlier this year, businesses are now setting the agenda for governments.
I am looking to build on the leadership of such companies with a major new programme to address the drivers of deforestation. On Thursday, at an event hosted by HRH the Prince of Wales, I set out plans for working with the private sector and rainforest countries so that the timber and foodstuffs we buy do not cause deforestation. And alongside the US, Norway, Germany and Australia I committed jointly to accelerating our efforts to tackle deforestation, to have a chance of staying within 2 degrees.
The UK played a significant role in securing commitment in Durban last year to negotiate a new legally binding deal by 2015; and we are not letting up in our efforts. Tackling dangerous climate change is a complex task, but in the UK we are determined to rise to the challenge, working together with all Parties at the UN towards our shared goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees, and preventing the worst effects of climate change.