Should we be cynical about COP21? – Reuters TV – 30 Nov 15


Reuters TV






Reuters: Tom Burke is from the think tank E3G, and he’s also a former UK government advisor on climate change. It’s good to have you with us in the studio Tom. Forgive our cynicism in all this but it’s often a popular perception out there that these summits generate more hot air than they are designed to eliminate. Is that fair?

Tom Burke: I think that there’s that perception out there, but actually Obama was somebody who said in his speech today that our big enemy is cynicism, and I tend to agree with him.  I think that we are at a very interesting turning point in this debate, in this issue. We are moving from a point where the political risks of taking action on climate change are going up, and the political costs of doing something about it are going down. I think that it’s a very critical moment, we may not be about to save the planet, the planet will probably be alright, but we will save the economy if we get this right.

Reuters: We’ve heard about legally binding agreements before, we’ve tried to get there and not quite managed it, so what are the expectations then this time?

Tom Burke: I think that the expectation for this particular conference is quite high, and that’s largely because the politics are beginning to shift, and we’ve seen with the presence of so many global leaders around the place, the kind of agreement that’s been developing between people like the Chinese President, President Obama and Merkel. What we are seeing, I think for the first time, is a real political will emerging to do something. And when you add to that the idea that increasingly we are focusing on, and if you listen to the leader’s speeches you can here this, people are focusing much more on the opportunity there is to get it right, than they are on what the costs or constraints of getting it wrong are.

Reuters: Well, talk to us a bit about the costs, you were talking about the political costs there earlier, but what about the economic costs, is there any way, is it possible to quantify how much achieving a 1% cut in emissions actually costs the economy?

Tom Burke: You can find a vast array of models that will tell you very different things, about what it costs you in terms of numbers. I don’t think that there is any doubt in all of the analysis that it is more than we can afford. But what I think is really interesting is when you look at the overall picture, and when you look at, say what the IEA are saying. We would save more money in the avoided cost of getting oil and gas out of the ground, than it would cost to pay for renewable energy, pay for low-carbon energy. So in broad terms it is going to be better for your economy, definitely, if you avoid climate change, and it’s probably going to be better for the economy if you move to low-carbon faster rather than slower.

Reuters: It must be quite interesting being China there today, being the big guilty party in the room, how do you think they are going to be greeted? We’ve see encouraging signs right? But is it enough?

Tom Burke: We saw a very good speech, I thought, from President Xi. The Chinese are driven not just by a changing climate, to which they are very vulnerable, but they are also driven by massive air pollution. Beijing just had the worst air pollution this year announced, and they have a tremendous sense of the opportunity that will be there, and we saw a lot of announcements from Xi of what they are doing themselves, which is driven by the fact that they are the world’s biggest supplier of solar panels, they see the move to a low-carbon economy as something that will be very beneficial to their economy.






About tomburke

Tom Burke is the Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, and an Environmental Policy Adviser (part time) to Rio Tinto plc. He is a Visiting Professor at both Imperial and University Colleges, London. He is a member of the External Review Committee of Shell and the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board of Unilever and a Trustee of the Black-E Community Arts Project, Liverpool.
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