Can we really fix climate change? – LBC Radio – 07 Dec 15







LBC: Let’s talk first to Tom Burke, environmentalist and former government advisor on the environment. Tom, good evening to you. Tell is about this summit. There are lots of important people there, it’s a big deal. There is also quite a lot of scepticism. Are you hopeful?

Tom Burke: I am actually quite hopeful, a bit more than I expected to be. I think it’s now clear that there will be an agreement. The question is, and I think Amber Rudd was raising this, how strong will the agreement be, and as you’ve pointed out there are still some sticking points. There are sticking points that I think will probably go down right until the end of the week; on finance, how much money is going to be available to help people to adjust, on exactly how strong the mechanism for taking things forward will be, and also on whether or not we are going to be able to check what other countries are doing. I think those are some of the big sticking point issues.

LBC: Well they are quite important really aren’t they, if you get a deal but you can’t check whether anyone is abiding by it, then it’s not much of a deal.

Tom Burke: Yes, I agree very much with that and I think that’s why this is an issue. I think that we are a lot further ahead than we were the last time there was a big summit like this. There’s  much more recognition that you really do need to trust, so that people can verify that other countries are doing what they say they are doing, and without a good transparency mechanism that will be very difficult to do.

LBC: There seems to be a perception amongst the public that some countries are really up for this, and other countries are really just showing up but they’re not really on board. They’ve got other things to worry about.

Tom Burke: I think there is a bit of a perception about that, but I don’t think it’s well founded, again , I think if you were looking at this conference five years ago that would have been more correct. Right now what you are seeing is countries like China, India, which by the way has its own floods happening right now, countries are beginning to see that actually it’s in their National interest to do this. Now, as always, they might not want to do as much as they ought to do, but I don’t think you’ve got anybody, with the possible exception of a few of the oil rich countries, that are really trying to slow things down and aren’t going to deliver what they are promising to deliver.

LBC: Is part of the problem that governments automatically seem to have a short term view of things?  They don’t really want to do thing that are going to change the world in thirty years’ time, they only want to do things within their own term of government.

Tom Burke: Yes, I think your right about that. I do think that, in a sense, we don’t have a problem with the technology for solving this problem, and we don’t have a problem really with the economics of it. But we really do have a problem with politicians being willing to step up to the plate, and do the things that only they can do in governments, and I do think that there is a tendency increasingly these days for governments to look to the short term, which means the problems just get worst and the cost of solving them just gets bigger.

LBC: And what the record of the summits? We had on five years ago or something like that?

Tom Burke: Well, you have an annual summit, but you have big ones at regular intervals, roughly five yearly. The real thing to think about with the summits, is really so much what comes out in the text, which as Amber Rudd was saying, is always a compromise. But it’s how it influences millions of conversations that go on all over the world, in cities, in local communities, in businesses, in all kinds of institutions. These are the places that make the real changes in the economy that make a difference. So what we are seeing increasingly is an enormous engagement of the investment community for the first time, as they begin to look both at the risks of not dealing with climate change on the one hand, but also the growing opportunities of a low-carbon economy on the other hand. So I think that we are seeing an evolving debate, which in a way the big summits give a push to, but actually isn’t where the really action is, the real action is in the real world, where most of us live.

LBC: Let me put a couple of texts to you which have come in, we are getting a lot of messages in here.This one says: We need to make plane obsolescence illegal, with huge sanctions, making millions of fridges, cars, TVs, phones every year just isn’t sustainable.

Tom Burke: I think that what we have seen, actually very interestingly, is a big change since we have started publishing the energy efficiency ratings on all of those goods, and what we have started to see is a turnover, as people increasingly, especially as energy bills go up, as people actually take matters into their own hands, and what to buy more efficient appliances, so we’ve seen quite a big decrease in energy demand going on, rather than the increase we are used to seeing.

LBC: There’s a perception as well, that China isn’t really doing very much. There’s a big story in The Independent today about Beijing. They are on red alert, the deadly smog, the cities schools are closing. It looks absolutely disgusting, and people are saying that they haven’t seen the sun for weeks. That doesn’t give the impression that China really cares much about the environment.

Tom Burke: I think that is exactly why China is beginning to take real action. The coal that is part of the problem of climate change is also producing all that pollution that means you can’t see across the street in Bejing. So what you see is the Chinese, again, taking the problem which they have got to do because it’s causing massive unrest in the population, and then turning that into an opportunity.  They are the biggest investors in the world in renewable energy, particularly in solar, and they are increasing their investment in electric vehicles. I think they see the transition as something that will be to their benefit, not something that’s actually going to be a problem for them. So we want to watch out, because if we’re not careful we are going to find ourselves left behind.






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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