UK leading the way: Moving forward in international climate change policy

3 June 2009 11:00 - 12:15 GMT+00
Public event

Speakers:

Lord Adair Turner - Chair, Financial Services Authority, ODI and the Committee on Climate Change

Elwyn Grainger Jones - Head of Climate and Environment Group, DFID

Alison Evans, Simon Maxwell and Natasha Grist - ODI

Chair:

John Battle MP - Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development (APGOOD)

Description

At this final event of the ODI/DFID climate change speaker series, we considered the UK’s pivotal role in International Development and Climate Change, its leadership and ongoing challenges. As the interim talks for Copenhagen get underway (SBSTA in Bonn from June 1st-12th) this is a critical time for display of solid leadership and commitment from the developed nations.

During the last 18 months, the UK has made bold moves in support of the groundbreaking Climate Change Bill. In April 2009, the government refined the long time period (2050) initially set for 80% reduction in carbon emissions to a series of shorter term, legally binding targets - 34% reduction by 2020 in emissions, in response to recommendations from the CCC. However, in the same period the UK has also moved forward on Heathrow’s Third Runway and Kingsnorth Power Station (currently without carbon capture and storage). Does this show conflicting policy objectives, or can it all be neatly tied into one low carbon package?

We welcomed Lord Turner, Chair of the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change, to discuss the UK’s achievements and ongoing challenges.

Staff from ODI reflected on topics covered during the series by the speakers, and changes in the wider political landscape since the series began a few months ago.

Committee room 10

John Battle MP welcomed the speakers, especially Lord Turner, and all the participants

Natasha Grist, the series organiser, thanked all those who have contributed to the series. She summarized the debates of the 10 previous meetings into 6 key messages:

-      Climate change is big, urgent and is happening now.

-      There remain huge uncertainties on carbon emissions.

-      Specifics of emission targets are critical; middle income countries should play an important role.

-      Financing is a major issue for resolution

-      We need clarity about expectations on outcomes of Copenhagen.

-      The major challenges are to do with institutions and governance and not with science. 

She concluded by pointing to the need to mainstream climate change quickly into development. A more detailed report of this synthesis is available here. Natasha directed participants to the ODI website for more detailed event reports.

Lord Adair Turner began by outlining the functions of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and mentioned the CCC’s December 2008 report Building a Low Carbon Economy. The committee concentrates mainly on the detail of how to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 level, but also considers UK adaptation.

Lord Turner focussed his talk on three areas:

1. Climate Science

-      In science, there remains a gap between emissions and related temperature increase due to the complexities of the climate system.

-      The world will warm to at least 1-1. 5oC, and without draconian actions will go above 2oC; if we do nothing it may go up to 3oC or 4oC or 5oC.

-      The CCC has no independent scientific capability, so relies on IPCC (which is a little out of date by the time it gets through the scientific process) and reputable science reports. We are aware of current science which shows that emissions are now beyond the highest scenarios of the 3rd and 4th IPCC assessment review. Next year the CCC will take stock on the latest scientific analysis.

2. Human welfare

-      For human welfare, it is not average temperature increase which is important, but specific regional temperature increase and the specific regional precipitation patterns, which are more uncertain.  In some locations a mild warming of 1oC or 2oC might be positive to human welfare (e.g. Russia). Above 2oC, two things happen: first, the loss of welfare is extremely likely to reach all parts of the world, and secondly, strong non-linear effects occur, which will greatly exacerbate the problem.

-      Taking a risk-based approach, we can plan for having a very small risk of going above a certain temperature; this may be a more effective way of planning with this degree of uncertainty over system feedbacks. We need to keep the increase above 2oC as small as possible, and to keep the chances of really harmful climate change  very small (ie. <1% chance of > 4oC average temperature rise)

3. Economics and ethics

-      Economic assumptions around climate change calculations are huge; how can we place value on welfare impacts of increased desertification and rainfall and the related effects of this of migration, unrest, political collapse in fragile economies etc.? Instead we should describe these potential effects and ask the political and ethical questions - what will people sacrifice in order to avoid this happening?

-      The 80% reduction target is based on Stern’s calculations of required emissions by  2050 (20-24GT of CO2eq), which will be 2.0-2.3 tonnes per capita (if 9 bn population). By 2050 some countries, unchecked, would not have reached this (in SSA). The UK is currently producing 11 tonnes per capita, so we need to reduce emissions by 80% to reach this. This will cost 1-3% GDP given 2% per annum growth in the UK: “if we fail to take it we are not only ethically wrong, it would just be pathetic”.

-      Lord Turner was supportive of CDM and purchasing carbon credits from overseas currently as the most cost-efficient. But by 2050 at least 75% of the 80% target has to be domestic. Long term trade will focus on natural carbon sink trading.

-      He supported the EU’s ‘sensible and responsible negotiating approach’, and highlights that China and the US are the central players now. There has been progress from both governments. We can get this to work these key players commit.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones, head of the Climate and Environment Group at DFID, focused his comments on science, politics and ethics.

Climate science and evidence

Since the opening of the series in January 2009, the evidence has worsened. DFID is funding research into economic, social and inequality impacts.

DFID is focussing now on risk and increased variability

Politics and ethics

-      There is high sensitivity to UK policies on climate change when DFID talks with partner governments

-      There remains a disconnection between the process of negotiations and the real political change that needs to happen. How can we get away from the mercantilist mind set, keep the voice of the most vulnerable, poorest and smallest countries in this debate.

-      Climate change is still too contained within environment policies and we have got a long way to go – including in DFID – to mainstream climate change into development. This include how we think about growth, the way we describe growth and development, and the way we think about natural assets

-      Institutional politics is critical. We lack international organisations that can mediate between the rising inequalities and impacts of this climate challenge. The more effective institutions are seen as having less political legitimacy.

-      We need new financial systems to deal with climate change that are not based on charity principles of current aid

4. Simon Maxwell, Senior Research Associate at ODI, discussed new angles on politics on climate change, summarised from his related blog. He previously saw climate change as deeply political, covering trade-offs, market failures, equity, vested interests. He saw climate change policy also as deeply political at a national level – governments are held to account for wider decisions that affect the climate change agenda (Heathrow, Kingsnorth, EU ETS scheme). This perspective is confronted by Tony Giddens book, ‘The Politics of Climate Change’ and Colin Challen’s ‘Too Little, Too Late: The Politics of Climate Change’ The authors call for political transcendence and cross party consensus as the key for successfully tackling climate change and achieving a stable carbon price. Long term technology subsidies can be achieved in this way. Their recommendations include:

-              Use All Party Parliamentary Groups to foster discussion and consensus building – don’t talk about the detail: Focus on the long term objectives.

-              Set up independent bodies to monitor progress and advise – e.g. CCC.

-              Look for ways to increase the cost of defection from the consensus.

-              Take climate change away from politics all together. Perhaps have the monarch to chair a national committee/conference on climate change.

-              Encourage civil society action groups (e.g. a ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign on climate change).

-              Importance of think thanks in convening meeting series like this and bringing analysis and creating a community which will take the conversation further.

Maxwell said that these do not go far enough. Firstly, we must be courageous enough to focus on implementation and detail. And secondly, we must be aware of the realities of political dealing: Russia signed the Kyoto protocol because it wanted to join the WTO, and the EU demanded that Russia should sign Kyoto as a precondition.  What and who are political deal makers and breakers? This is an extremely important project for all of us here to address.

5. Alison Evans, Director of ODI, highlighted that the price of failure is enormously high. Climate change is a ‘game changer’ for development. We will face difficult choices, difficult trade-offs, that affect the risk-reward calculus that underpins our understanding of development. It also points to the centrality of politics: who is included, how deals get made, the global governance architecture. Equally, there are other big global drivers that are impacting on development, so to balance these other drivers and climate change into the development discourse is a real challenge.

Alison discussed four critical areas for ongoing research:

-      Mitigation is a development issue – clarity on developing countries targets, voice and participation is fundamental. Future of low-income countries today.

-      Adaptation – development in a hostile environment. We need to keep a focus on high level planned adaptation, and mainstreaming climate change into developing countries priorities in policy processes. Focus on strengthening resilience to climate change, focusing on understanding peoples livelihoods in the context of climate change.

-      Financial innovation. Institutional financial architecture must be right for tackling climate change. More specifically, the priority areas are: analysing funding proposals and their impacts on polity, how to align funding mechanisms to the principles of aid effectiveness and good development cooperation. Finally, how can good financial systems be set up within developing countries?

-      Knowledge and communications. We need to bridge the knowledge divide between the climate science and the development community. We (ODI) see this as trying to think of what kinds of evidence and knowledge are needed where to support what kinds of conversations, what kinds of decision making, within developing countries now, that will change the course of national policy planning around development.

Discussion

·         Colin Challen clarified his position in relation to monarchs playing a role in climate policies. For him, everybody has a responsibility, especially if you are the head of the state, so the Queen has a huge role.

·         There was a request for greater transparency of the CCC’s work and for the CCC to look into specific science such as ocean science and its impacts on CC. Turner reiterated that CCC is not a scientific body itself but responds to scientific evidence.

·         There was a suggestion for the UK to establish closer partnerships, in parallel with the negotiations, with other developing countries to improve research and technology transfer.

·         Will Day (PWC) asked if Lord Turner’s 1-3% GDP projections for CC costs are realistic given the evidence facing us – are we being too complacent about this?

John Battle thanked the audience and invited them to the Jubilee Room for a reception.

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