BBC: I’m joined by Tom Burke former UK government advisor on climate change, now Chairman of the environmental Think Tank E3G, which is Third Generation Environmentalism. So there has been an awful lots of momentum leading up to this event in Paris and a lot of governments represented, and a many of them have already put down in writing what their plans are, surely that bodes for a good conference, do you think?
Tom Burke: I think you’re right about that. I think we are seeing a much more optimistic view of actually getting an agreement, whether that agreement will be enough, I think we’ve got to wait and see. But the French were very smart in getting the leaders in at the beginning. They are going to turn up in Paris today, they are going to make a speech, they are going to declare victory, and then they are going to go home. That makes it very difficult to have bad headlines at the end of the fortnight, so there will be a lot of toing and froing between the people in Paris and the Capitals at home, to make sure that the story stays consistent
BBC: And some of the statistics we have heard outline how catastrophic it could be, if more isn’t done, and done quickly to counter climate change. And businesses want some kind of strong outcome don’t they? Because of the cost to them if nothing is done.
Tom Burke: I think that’s right, I think the impact on the economy of climate change is just beginning to be understood, and there are still a lot of businesses that haven’t got their minds around it. There’s a great difference across the business community about who is going to be effected. For the fossil fuel industries clearly it’s going to be negative for them, but for all the opportunity seekers, people like Elon Musk, the electric vehicle developers, the new battery developers, the solar entrepreneurs, this is going to be a very good thing. For companies like Unilever, for the big retail companies, climate change is a real threat to their supply chain, so they are going to want a much quicker response by governments.
BBC: So from a practical view, what do you think businesses and organisations will be looking at, in terms of policy that they will need to implement in order to stick to the guidelines set by National governments?
Tom Burke: I think what businesses need most most from governments is consistency; there is no one policy that everybody needs to adopt everywhere, because circumstances are different and the business communities are different in different countries, but what they need is consistency, which that is exactly what we haven’t seen from the British Government recently.
Today Paris will again be the focus of world attention. 150 world leaders, including Presidents Obama, Xi, and Putin, Chancellor Merkel and Indian Premier Modi will be there. They will attend the most important meeting on climate change since the Copenhagen summit ended in chaos in 2009.
The shape of the summit’s outcome, tentatively named the Paris Agreement, is already clear. It will have three components: carbon pollution reductions commitments from every participant; a body of rules for the future conduct of the regime and a finance package to help smaller nations both reduce their pollution and adapt to a changing climate.
No-one expects that the results of this summit alone will be enough to prevent dangerous climate change. There will be much debate over the exact content of the agreement, and more over its interpretation. The devils, as always with international agreements, will be in the detail.
Most of this debate, however, will miss a critical point. It is changes in the real economy that matter most to the climate. The Paris summit occurs at a turning point. Until now the political risks to governments of climate action have outweighed those of inaction.
This risk equation is changing. The frequency, and cost, of extreme weather events continues to rise while the costs of low carbon energy are falling precipitously.
Extreme weather events have done tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage, often uninsured, in many countries. Hurricane Hainan alone cost the Philippines $12.9 billion. Superstorm Sandy cost the US over $60 billion.
Meanwhile the costs of developing a low carbon economy have fallen. The cost of solar has dropped 50% in five years. In some parts of the world it already competes directly with gas. The cost of batteries for electric vehicles dropped 55% in the same period. As these costs fall so, too, does the political cost of acting on climate change.
The stronger the agreement struck in Paris, the faster this equation will change. This matters to business. But not in the same way to all businesses.
For the fossil fuel industries and their main customers the slower the better. A safe climate is incompatible with their so far very successful business model. A rapidly changing political risk equation would collapse value for them.
But the costs of a changing climate are just beginning to impact a vast range of other, more economically important, businesses – retail, tourism, agriculture, for example. They need a faster change to protect costs, markets and supply chains.
Then there are the opportunity seekers. The innovators and entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, that are driving down the costs of low carbon energy. With market dynamics that look far closer to information technology than traditional energy investment, the faster this equation changes the better they do.
Finally, there are the main stream investors pursuing returns. They will stand back waiting to see how the battle of interpretation of the Paris Agreement resolves. They will back whichever of the other business voices they believe will deliver reliable and superior returns.
What matters most for the climate is whether the $90 trillion the world will invest in energy over the next decade and a half takes us from a high carbon to a low carbon path. Business will have a crucial voice in this debate. But after Paris it may be a much more divided voice than hitherto.
Nearly 150 global leaders are gathering in Paris amid tight security for a critical UN climate meeting.
The conference, known as COP21, starts on Monday and will try to craft a long-term deal to limit carbon emissions.
Observers say that the recent terror attacks on the French capital will increase the chances of a new agreement.
Around 40,000 people are expected to participate in the event, which runs until 11 December.
The gathering of 147 heads of state and government is set to be far bigger than the 115 or so who came to Copenhagen in 2009, the last time the world came close to agreeing a long term deal on climate change.
One important part of the conference started on Sunday evening. The Adhoc Durban Platform on enhanced action was brought forward to “offer an opportunity to make the best possible use of the very limited time available”, the UN said.
While many leaders including Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping were always set to attend this conference, the recent violent attacks in Paris have encouraged others to come in an expression of solidarity with the French people.
Unlike at Copenhagen, the French organisers are bringing the leaders in at the start of the conference rather than waiting for them to come in at the end, a tactic which failed spectacularly in the Danish capital.
On Sunday hundreds of thousands of people took part in demonstrations worldwide to demand they take firm action.
Delegates are in little doubt that the shadow cast over the city by the attacks will enhance the chances of agreement.
“I believe that it will make a deal more likely, because what I feel from the parties is that they are very eager to move,” said Amjad Abdulla from the Maldives, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States in the negotiations.
A former UK government adviser on climate change and now chairman ofenvironmental think tank E3G, Tom Burke, believes that some leaders will push the line that, by tackling rising temperatures, you remove one of the causes of terrorism.
While the mood music around the event is very positive, there are still considerable differences between the parties.
Security for the summit
Already planned to be tight even before the attacks
Following the attacks, border controls temporarily imposed. They were set to begin on 30 November anyway
Almost 1,000 people considered security risks refused entry since 13 November
8,000 police and gendarmes to carry out border checks
2,800 extra police at the conference venue at Le Bourget north of Paris
120,000 police and troops already mobilised across France since the attacks
Sale and transport of flammable materials such as gas cylinders, domestic solvents, barbeque firelighters and firecrackers banned until 13 December
Some major roads to be closed for two days
One key problem is what form an agreement will take. The US for instance will not sign up to a legally binding deal as there would be little hope of getting it through a Senate dominated by Republicans.
“We’re looking for an agreement that has broad, really full participation,” said US lead negotiator Todd Stern at a news briefing earlier this week.
“We were quite convinced that an agreement that required actually legally binding targets would have many countries unable to participate.”
Many developing countries fundamentally disagree. As does the European Union.
“We must translate the momentum we have seen on the road to Paris into an ambitious, operational, legally binding agreement,” said EU commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, in a statement.
As well as the form there are also many issues with the content.
There are a wide range of views on what the long-term goal of the agreement should be.
While it will ostensibly come down to keeping temperatures from rising more than 2C above the pre-industrial level, how that will be represented in the text is the subject of much wrangling.
Some countries reject the very notion of 2C and say 1.5C must be the standard. Others want to talk about decarbonising the world by the middle or end of this century.
For major oil producers the very idea is anathema.
While the fact that more than 180 countries have put forward national plans to cut emissions is a major strength of this conference, there are still big questions marks about how to verify those commitments that will actually be carried out.
“People in the negotiations, people outside the negotiations are going to be looking for the capacity to have trust and confidence in what countries say they are doing,” Todd Stern told reporters.
“[You] can’t run the system without that.”
UN climate conference 30 Nov – 11 Dec 2015
COP 21 – the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties – will see more than 190 nations gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the threat of dangerous warming due to human activities.
While there is some consensus among the parties that the plans will need to be reviewed every five years, there is no question of punitive restrictions if a country doesn’t meet its targets.
And among the many other issues in dispute, almost inevitably, is money. While rich countries promised they would give $100bn by 2020 to the developing world back in 2009, the cash has been slow in coming. Right now there is no agreement about what happens after 2020.
While there is a general air of optimism and a willingness to get a deal done, success isn’t guaranteed this time round. Many believe that a country such as India, with close to 300 million people without electricity, will refuse to sign up to a strong agreement that limits future fossil fuel use.
If that happens, the whole process could come unstuck, as nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Tom Burke for one believes that going against the flow will be particularly difficult this time round.
“I think one of the reasons people will find it hard to hold out at the end will be because of the level of political capital that Obama has invested in climate change, making it clear it is a primary legacy issue for him,” he said.
LBC: Tom Burke, Chairman and founding Director of environmental think tank E3G, and former government advisor. Morning Tom, why do people not care enough about the environment?
Tom Burke: I think people do care about the environment, and I think they do, in their lives across a whole range of issues, the things that are within their reach. So people will recycle, people will do things to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, but I think people also realise that this is a problem that takes governments to act. So they want government to do the things that only government can do, when they have done the bits they can.
LBC: In you view is the government acting? There’s a giant protest movement across the world which is suggests there is a recognition that the governments across the world haven’t done enough. Do you think that the fight against climate change is something that is winnable?
Tom Burke: I certainly think that the fight against climate change is something that is winnable, and I think we have done an awful lot in the last 30 years or so, but we’ve not done enough. The problem is getting worse faster than our efforts to deal with it at the moment. So we have to accelerate action to get a safe climate, and that’s why 195 leaders have turned up in Paris.
LBC: And what will be the practical and enforceable consequences of that in you view?
Tom Burke: Well I think the real thing will be to drive fossil fuels: oil, coal and gas, out of our energy mix, and to do that really quite fast, and really to invest a lot more in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency which would also get people’s bills down, and also in things like smart batteries to power our electric vehicles and so on.
BBC: Tom Burke has joined me in the studio. He is the chairman of the environmental think tank E3G. Tom Burke, what was it that went wrong in Copenhagen because for many people it was a disaster.
Tom Burke: Yes it was, I think two things went wrong, first of all I think that it was too early in the politics of climate change. Events hadn’t got to the pitch they’ve got to now, where the political risks to leaders of doing something about climate change are now being exceeded by the political risks of not doing something. The second thing that I think has changed, is that before Copenhagen a low-carbon economy was a Power Point presentation essentially, now it is a massive program that is absorbing most of the investment in new energy around the world, and is a serious option for investors to consider.
BBC: Let’s explore that idea about the politics of climate change having shifted, how would you characterise the nature of that shift. Has it come from the top down or has it come from the grassroots activism?
Tom Burke: I think your right, it has come really from the bottom up, not so much the activism, there was a lot of activism before Copenhagen as well, but analytically what was driving events before Copenhagen was essentially “the knowledge”, “the science”. I think what’s driving it now is experience, is the fact things are happening to people, they are witnessing the changing climate in front of them. That’s really what is now beginning to move the politics of climate change forward.
BBC: We still hear though don’t we that the countries that need to be persuaded are not really persuaded yet. I’m talking about China, about India and the United States.
Tom Burke: I’m not sure that is true anymore. I think that was certainly the picture before Copenhagen, but actually one of the reasons why there is more optimism now, is because China and America have come together in quite a strong way and they are really why it’s hard to see anybody wrecking this series of meetings. But there are still people, India is very difficult, India worries a lot about getting electricity to its poor, and it’s very focused on using a lot of coal in order to do that. I think there are countries like Saudi Arabia that still have reservations, but other countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia that were very difficult before have really come much more to join the global consensus.
BBC: So how optimistic are you? You say there is a lot less of a chance of anybody wrecking it outright. It partly also to do with the fact that people have had to go to Paris with their ideas first, which is what didn’t happen in Copenhagen.
Tom Burke: That’s exactly right, I think the French have been very much cleverer than the people who organised Copenhagen, not only have they had people put what their offer is on the table first, but also they have had the leaders come in at the beginning not the end. So the leaders are going to come to Paris, make a speech, declare victory and go home, and that makes it very difficult for them to allow it to break down at the end, and undo all those good headlines.
“Climate change is seen as much more than just another environmental problem”
Next week Paris will again be the focus of world attention. This time in the face of another global threat to us all: climate change.
Over 100 world leaders, including Presidents Obama, Xi, and Putin, Chancellor Merkel, Indian Premier Modi and our own Prime Minister will attend. This will be the largest gathering of world leaders since the Earth Summit in Rio a quarter of a century ago.
They will be there to attend a climate summit, the oddly named COP 21. This is the latest in the sequence of annual meetings searching for a global agreement control carbon pollution.
It is seven years since political leaders first agreed on the need to prevent the world’s temperature rising more than 2°C above historical levels. This year the temperature rise will reach 1°C. This year has witnessed an outbreak of events throughout the world highlighting the need for urgent action: prolonged droughts in California and elsewhere, unmanageable floods, horrific wildfires, devastating hurricanes.
And, increasingly, climate change is seen as much more than just another environmental problem.
Central bankers are accustomed to weighing their words carefully. This is a wake-up call on the climate from someone as unlikely as he is authoritative.
This year’s extreme weather events and the analysis underpinning the Governor’s intervention help explain why so many world leaders are gathering in Paris at a time when they have many other pressing issues on their minds. The effort to keep the climate safe is at a crucial turning point. We have made progress, carbon pollution is far below what it would otherwise have been, but too slowly.
For far too long, the political risks of acting on climate change have been seen by many governments as outweighing the political cost of inaction.
The consequences of a changing climate were thought to be off in the distant future and the costs of reducing carbon pollution were thought to be high and immediate. This equation is beginning to change.
A growing number of extreme weather events have done tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage, often uninsured, in many countries. Hurricane Hainan alone cost the Philippines $12.9bn. Superstorm Sandy cost the US over $60bn. These issues are increasing the political, and economic, cost of failing to tackle climate change.
Meanwhile, the costs of developing a low carbon economy have fallen dramatically. The cost of solar electricity has dropped 44 per cent in five years and in some parts of the world already competes with gas even without subsidies. The cost of storage for renewables has dropped 75 per cent in the same period. As these costs fall so too does the political cost of acting on climate change.
If Paris succeeds, this momentum will pick up. If it fails, progress will stall and the cost and difficulty of keeping the climate safe will get bigger.
Sky News: Let’s talk to Tom Burke an Environmentalist and former Government advisor. Let’s be blunt. People have been droning on about climate change and global warming for so many years now, but nothing ever gets agreed and nothing ever happens, is that why we’re switching off?
Tom Burke: I think nothing every gets agreed and nothing happens in a way that makes good television, but it’s actually not true that nothing happens. We’ve now got about 840 pieces of legislation around the world, and emissions have gone down much further than they could ever have gone down without the agreement. So I agree with you, there is that sort of perception around, but that’s partly watching a process like this is a bit like watching paint dry, it does actually dry.
Sky News: But if so much has been agreed, then you could say why are we hearing Prince Charles talking and saying its all doom and gloom? Why do we still get the impression that not enough is being done and we are still heading for disaster?
Tom Burke: In terms of what needs to be done that absolutely right. Yes, we have made progress, we have made a lot of progress. Is it enough to make the world safe and our future safe? No it’s not. What I think is really interesting though, is that we are at a turning point where up until now we have tended to be a bit doom and gloom, a bit how do we stop people doing something bad? I think the debate is increasingly now about how do we get to do something good? How do we build a low-carbon economy, with lots of opportunities, lots of jobs, and lots of revenues for the smart companies of the future, for example the Elon Musk’s, the people who provide electric vehicles. So I think we are now looking at a much more opportunity driven debate.
Sky News: But you’re trying to pull together 175 different nations to come to some sort of co-ordinated agreement and that’s not easy is it? And this is the final year, they have set themselves this 2015 deadline.
Tom Burke: It’s actually 196 countries, and I think the expectation that they will come to an agreement are now quite high, so I’m not worried about whether we will get to an agreement, it’s whether the agreement is good enough, and I think that is still to be debated, and we will see at the end of the fortnight. I think the French have been very clever in getting the leaders to come early, because they are going to come, they are going to make a speech, declare victory and go home. That makes it very difficult for there to be a failure at the end of the fortnight.
Sky News: Is part of the reason why people are switching off because they are getting more savvy? Even if we have electric cars, you have to charge your car, that electricity has to be generated somewhere, and in the UK that electricity is probably being generated by burning coal. Is it just pushing the problem along to somebody else?
Tom Burke: Actually about a quarter of our electricity in the UK is generated from renewables, it’s much higher than people expect. So I think it depends on where you’re getting you electricity. But I think there is a sense in which people have heard the story for a long time, and there is still some confusion, there are still some politicians who say don’t worry this isn’t really a problem, there is still an occasional editor who wants to present this as if it is still a matter of opinion, rather than what’s actually happening, what’s fact. So I think that helps to create a little bit of confusion and people have got other things on their mind a lot at the moment. So I’m not surprised that we’re seeing a bit of uncertainty about how committed people are to getting this done. But you know, you’ve got the Pope, a hundred and ninety six world leaders every scientific academy in the world telling you that this is a problem we’ve got to do something about, and David Attenborough joined the crowd today. So I think that we shouldn’t be in any doubt about where we are going.
Climate Change is a threat multiplier, and when you have an already stressed situation as you had in Syria, and then you add the extra stress caused by climate change, in this case the very prolonged drought that drove about a million and half people out of the rural areas in Syria into the cities, then you multiply that stress, and in this case it multiplied it to breaking point.
One of the things that Assad failed to do, as the drought got longer, was one, to manage his water resources effectively, and two, deal with the fact that it reduced food security for people, and as we saw in the Arab Spring, once people really feel their food security is threatened then life becomes very unstable indeed, which is what we have seen in Syria. So it’s not that climate change was the cause, but it was part of the build up of stresses that created the instability that Assad has been threatened by.
The existing stresses had been there for a very long time, the Assad regime had been managing to cope with and keep the lid on all the dissent inside Syria, right up until the point where the fourth year of drought drove millions of refugees into the cities, and led to the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Climate change is probably the most significant driver of massive migrations around the world, creating lots of tension particularly in places like the border between India and Bangladesh, where climate change and rising sea levels are already driving people out of Bangladesh and into India, in large numbers.
Population growth is beginning to peak, we are beginning to see a slow down, so it’s not now really the major driver of climate change. The really important driver is, that as people are becoming more affluent and using more energy, they are accelerating the pace at which the climate is changing, because energy is currently dominated by fossil fuels. So we need to get out of fossil fuels, as fast as we can, to slow down this process. If what we are seeing is in a sense the prelude to what a much warmer world would be like, if you don’t like this movie then you certainly won’t like the sequel.
I think we are beginning to go around a curve in which the level of political momentum has built up, the political risk of failing to act is growing, but the political risk of acting is reducing as the cost of renewable and of low-carbon alternatives goes down. We are beginning to see a change in the political equation. I think what Paris will do is accelerate us around that curve.
It’s just under a month before the start of COP21, the Paris climate change conference, at which global powers will try to achieve a universal and legally binding treaty to limit Green House Gas emissions. What can realistically be achieved?
What are the expectations for Paris?
I think the expectations are probably a lot better than people would have thought. The level of political momentum in the build up has been really very strong. A lot of leaders are going, so there will be an agreement, and it will be legally binding. It will really, in a sense, put the world on a new track, because rather than just being a single COP, this will be the start of a series of COPs that will roll forward, in which countries will come back and review their promises, and ratchet them up as we go forward. So I think we’re not expecting something that will get the world to 2 degrees on its own, but it will create a railway line that will take us in that direction.
How will it be policed? How do you make sure that countries keep their promises?
That’s exactly right, there is no policeman. There is nobody who is going to come in there and declare war on you if you fail to meet your commitments. But there are an awful lot of other pressures and means by which countries can be kept to their promises, not the least that this has now become a major economic and security issue, so the stakes are higher for countries which break their promises. You’ve also got the option now, that if there is a legally binding international treaty and countries don’t meet their obligations under it, then you’re entitled under the trade rules to begin to impose border tax adjustments on people’s goods and services. But much more importantly there is enormous internal pressure from countries to keep their promises.
From all countries?
It’s the Anglo-Saxon countries; the Australia’s, Canada’s, America’s and Britain’s, where there’s really any doubt anymore that this really is a problem that has very serious implications. In most of the rest of the world the opinion polling is overwhelmingly that people realise that this is a problem, and realise that something has to be done. So there are lots of pressures on people to keep their promises, and not the least because there are lots businesses that are setting out to build the low carbon economy of the future, that if countries don’t keep their promises, will find their interests are affected.
How does one actually check emissions? What are the practicalities of individual countries checking on individual businesses?
There will be a mechanism, not so much at the level of individual companies but at the level of countries to monitor their performance against their promises, to report regularly on that, and to verify that those reports are accurate. What we will have for the first time out of this treaty, is people agreeing to use the same process for monitoring, reporting and verifying. And that’s what will enable these other forces, much as they do in other treaties such and human rights and non-proliferation, as it were, the court of public opinion and political opinion, to keep governments to their promises. And remember under this regime, in a sense, countries have all promised what they think they can deliver, and what we have seen in the past is that most countries have over-performed. So what I expect we will see, is not so much a problem of countries failing to deliver, is countries actually being pressed to deliver more, because it is becoming quite apparent that they can do that.
That has been one of the criticisms, the main criticism, is that countries, perhaps for those reasons, have promised less than they could deliver, but not enough has been done.
I think that’s absolutely right, but what I think that we are beginning to see now is the debate that has been dominated by the fossil fuel industries and their customers, begin to be balanced by a lot of other voices coming in, particularly all those businesses worth a lot more to countries economies, beginning to come in and say “hang-on this is damaging our interests”. So what we are seeing around the world is that the political risk of failing to act is growing, as climate driven events come in on countries, but the political risk of acting is going down, as renewables and the low-carbon economy begins to gather momentum, and the cost of dealing with climate change goes down.
Nuclear is the cuckoo in the nest it squeezes the others out of the energy market. The reason why we are doing what we are doing, making so many policy changes in energy efficiency and renewables, and eliminating billions of pounds of investment, is to make sure that there in enough space in the electricity market for nuclear. Otherwise you wouldn’t get anybody to invest in it.
The reason why the wholesale price of electricity in Germany is half what it is in Britain, is because Germany has a large amount of renewables and that drives down wholesale energy prices. The way you pay for Hinkley is if the wholesale electricity price goes down, the subsidy you have to pay goes up. That’s an extraordinarily bad deal.
Offshore wind costs are coming down, nuclear costs are going up.