radio 5 live





BBC: Now let’s speak to Tom Burke, Chairman of environmental think tank E3G. He was government special advisor to the climate secretary John Gummer, and attended the Rio Earth Summit and the first of the meeting in Berlin in that role. You’ve attended a few conferences in your time.

Tom Burke: I’ve been to one or two, that’s right.

BBC: Are they all “hot air” or can something substantive be achieved here?

Tom Burke: I think that substantive achievement have already come from the conference that have gone on, I think that they’re not just “hot air”. You have to have a conversation if you want to change things. And we are trying to make a massive change to the world’s energy system to prevent climate change, and that takes a very big conversation. I admit, it does sometimes feel like watching paint dry, but actually we have made real progress. The problem is, it’s not enough progress.

BBC: Is the default position of a lot of countries “we don’t really want to do this” rather than “we have to do this”?

Tom Burke: No I think it’s a bit more complicated than that actually. The default position of most countries is “we’re in real trouble if we don’t get on with it”. There are some countries that are a bit more exposed to the downside of the things you have to do in order to get on with it: India for instance, Saudia Arabia, But actually they are a minority of countries. The majority of countries actually will get better off if we do something about climate change.

BBC: So since Kyoto, do you think there has been a realisation, a waking up, of many politicians across the planet?

Tom Burke: I think you’re absolutely right about that. I think the real difference now between Copenhagen and where we are today, is that there is a real expression of political will. We’ve seen that with the way that people like Obama and President Xi of China have really begun to put their own personal commitment behind it. I think that make a real difference. We don’t have a problem with the technology of building a low-carbon economy and the economics of it will probably be beneficial, the real problem is political will, and that’s what we are beginning to see expressed.

BBC: What about, the developed world, we had it good off the back of carbon, and the developing world are saying “this isn’t fair”.

Tom Burke: There’s no doubt that the developed countries have to do more, and they have been doing more, but you must remember that a lot of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, are those poor developing countries. So the world isn’t as simple anymore as developed and developing, there are quite complex patterns. There are some countries that have a lot of poor people, like India, also have also got large numbers of wealthy people in them. So it isn’t quite a simple as a contest between the rich and the poor.

BBC: People listening now, what does it mean to them, in the car, in the kitchen, on the way to school, on the way to work what does it mean to them if something is done or not?

Tom Burke: If we don’t solve this problem what it mean for people today is that their insurance bills will go up on their houses, as all those homes we build on flood plains become ever more vulnerable. It means our own prosperity will be affected. For our economy to grow we need people in the cities, in the emerging economies all over the world, we need their economies to grow. They are exactly the places that will be most hit by extreme weather events, the kind of damage that a changing climate does. So we live not just in a single climate, we live in a single economy these days and if you hurt on bit of the economy it hurts us directly.

BBC: And we live in an electoral cycle as well don’t we?

Tom Burke: I’m afraid we do, and we’ve just seen some evidence in this country of how that can set you back. We’ve had a government that has called itself the greenest government ever, and has just taken a sledgehammer to what was the fastest growing bit of the economy, which was the green economy. And I don’t understand why it’s done that, but it’s definitely a consequence of the election.

BBC: So you’re in a room with George Osbourne, it’s Tom and George. Finish this sentence “George…

Tom Burke: “…The green economy is the bit that will get you the fastest to the place you want to be, because that’s the bit that was growing; 400,000 jobs, the most added value of any sector in the economy, that’s the bit that will really generate the tax revenues you need to get the deficit down.”