Newsletters from No 10: 10 July 2009
I promised last week to report back to you on the international climate discussions that have taken place this week among global leaders in L'Aquila, Italy. I am sure you have seen media reports, but I thought it might be worth clarifying what has been agreed and achieved - and what has not, yet. Some very important commitments were made, but there remains a long way to go to Copenhagen.
There were two different discussions among the leaders: among the G8 on Wednesday, and then yesterday among the 16 countries (plus EU) taking part in the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF). Chaired by the US, the MEF brings together the G8 plus Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico and South Africa. The MEF Summit was preceded by four preparatory meetings for Leaders' Representatives, with Ed Miliband representing Gordon Brown and the UK. The communiques / declarations of both meetings are at http://www.g8italia2009.it/G8/Home/Summit/G8-G8_Layout_locale-1199882116809_Atti.htm
There were five significant advances achieved by the two meetings.
2 degrees C
The first was the agreement among not just the G8 but also the entire MEF group of countries that the goal of international action on climate change must be to limit the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees C. Getting other countries to agree this has long been a UK and EU aim - it sets the level of ambition that the Copenhagen agreement (and indeed everything that comes after it) must now achieve. So long as we had not properly defined what was meant by 'dangerous climate change', we did not have a goal for the action required. We now do. The significance of this really should not be under-estimated: the Copenhagen agreement will now have to be judged on how far the global emissions trajectory to which it commits the world is consistent with limiting the temperature increase to 2C. We are talking probabilities here - the uncertainities of climate modeling means that there is no simple relationship between emissions and eventual temperature. But the benchmark has been set. Until a few weeks ago - in fact, in the case of the developing countries, until a few days ago - we did not believe we were going to get this agreement. It is a genuine landmark.
Second, the G8 countries committed to reducing their own emissions by 80% (or more) by 2050. Again, this commitment was not on the cards until extremely recently, and it's important. Yes of course 2050 is a long way off, but it's the effect of this on countries' mid-term targets that matters. Targets for 2020 and 2030 will now have to be consistent with a reduction by 80% by 2050. This is already the case in the EU, where our 20-30% target range for 2020 was designed to put us on path to 80% by 2050 - the same is true of the UK's 34% in 2020 (more if the EU goes to 30%). Now other developed countries will have to show a similar compatibility between their mid-term targets and a minimum 80% cut by 2050.
At the same time this '80% or more' commitment by developed countries creates the possibility that in Copenhagen we could agree a global emissions reduction of at least 50% by 2050. That's the goal that the climate modeling suggests is compatible with stabilising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million, which in turn gives us around a 50% chance of keeping to 2C. Only if the developed countries cut by at least 80% could we expect the developing countries to agree to the overall halving goal, since they need sufficient 'carbon space' to grow into over the next few decades. In the preparatory meetings for the Major Economies Summit we had sought to persuade the developing countries that given an 80% reduction by developed countries they could agree to the 'at least 50% by 2050' goal. But at this stage they felt they could not - they pressed us back to adopt more ambitious mid-term targets. I'll come to that in a second.
There has been some commentary in the media about the language in the G8 communique on the baselines against which the 80% reduction (and the 50%) should be measured. It says 'compared to 1990 or more recent years.' There's no doubt that the UK and EU would have preferred a simple reference to 1990 - that's the internationally-agreed reference year. But for other countries, notably the US and Japan, comparisons against 1990 are presentationally less advantageous, so they want to use more recent years. In fact, with regard to 2050, different base years make little difference to the scale of the commitment. Since developed countries' emissions have now peaked, an 80% reduction on 2005 is actually equivalent to an 81% cut against 1990. Globally, halving on 1990 is equivalent to a 58% cut on 2005 - that's why the target is 'at least 50%'. So this is significant but not a different ballpark. The place where baselines absolutely do matter is for 2020 targets - and there the G8 communique is unequivocal. Though it allows that presentational baselines may vary, 'efforts need to be comparable', so changing the baseline cannot simply be a way of countries evading their responsibility to adopt a sufficiently stringent target.
The G8 has been criticised for not adopting collective targets for 2020 at this meeting. But like it or not this was never going to happen. The US target will effectively be determined by Congress, and while the House of Representatives last month passed a strong energy and climate Bill with the potential for very significant emissions reductions, debate has not even started in the Senate. So this was not going to be the moment for a big new announcement.
Developing countries, finance and technology
The third advance achieved this week was in the nature of the commitments for developing countries set out in the MEF Declaration. They have agreed that, like developed countries, they too will prepare low carbon growth plans. They have acknowledged that their emissions must not only be reduced against business as usual but absolutely (this is the first time they have accepted the concept of emissions peaking). And they have accepted that the impact on their emissions of the policies they adopt will have to be quantifiable. Each of these is a step forward en route to the commitments we are seeking at Copenhagen.
Fourth, we made valuable progress on climate finance. Chairing the MEF Summit, President Obama asked Gordon Brown, following his speech on 26 June, to introduce discussion on this issue. He set out the main principles from his speech, and urged countries round the table to speed up their consideration of a financial package to assist developing countries with adaptation, technology and forestry. There was a good discussion, and the Leaders agreed to ask their Finance Ministers to take up the issue and report back to them at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh at the end of September. So we now have precisely the timetable and process for further negotiation which the Prime Minister sought. And in the communique the MEF Leaders have agreed several of the principles he set out in his speech - on the need to scale up resources 'urgently and substantially', on the importance of carbon markets, on greater predictability, and on more balanced (but also effective) representation between developed and developing countries in governance. The document also references the Mexican 'Green Fund' proposal which includes the principle that all countries, except for the very poorest, should contribute. With the PM's initiative now having been welcomed by Ban Ki Moon, and a number of significant developed and developing countries (including the US, Australia and India), we are hopeful that momentum has been established on this critical issue.
Last, the MEF Summit has established new commitments between developed and developing countries to collaborate on the development, dissemination and transfer of transformational low carbon technologies, including solar, CCS, low carbon vehicles and bioenergy. Different countries have taken on leadership of a number of working groups to report back by November; and countries also agreed to double spending on low carbon and climate-friendly RD&D. These processes offer us a real chance to get over the technology impasse in the negotiations and concentrate on the practical actions required to make a difference to investment on the ground.
So these are all real advances. Perhaps even more importantly the meetings have established I think a new sense of collective purpose and momentum among the Leaders about reaching agreement in Copenhagen. This was very much Gordon Brown's aim in going into them, and he will be continuing his own direct and detailed engagement with other Leaders over the next few months. The MEF Summit agreed that Leaders' Representatives should continue to meet to provide further input to the formal UNFCCC negotiations. There remains a huge amount to do in both fora to get the kind of ambitious and comprehensive Copenhagen agreement we want. But I think we have made some progress this week.
DEPARTMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT WHITE PAPER
I thought I would also take this opportunity to point you to the DFID White Paper Building Our Common Future, published on Monday. The White Paper sets out a new approach to the delivery of development aid by the British government, refocusing resources onto fragile countries and for the first time treating security and justice as basic services alongside health, education, water and sanitation. It recommits the UK to providing 0.7% of our Gross National Income to international development by 2013. The White Paper has a particular emphasis on supporting poor countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build climate-resilient, low carbon growth. Confirming the £800m spending to which the Government is committed in 2008-11 on adaptation, innovative technology and forestry, it announces a new Climate Change Knowledge Network to provide and exchange information about climate change in developing countries and new pilot schemes for affordable climate insurance for the poor. It proposes ambitious targets to invest in renewable energy for the multilateral development banks, and establishes a number of new transboundary water initiatives. DFID has also committed to significant new funding for the Met Office's Hadley Centre for climate research. Full details at http://www.dfid.gov.uk/About-DFID/Quick-guide-to-DFID/How-we-do-it/Building-our-common-future.
Special Adviser to the Prime Minister
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