Sky News: Two of the world’s biggest polluters the US and China have ratified the Paris agreement on climate change. The move is being hailed as a major breakthrough, but does it go far enough? Tom Burke is the chairman of environment think tank E3G, and former British government advisor and he joins us from Central London. Good Afternoon, and thanks for joining us Tom.
So you’ve got the two biggest polluters and they have signed up to this accord, how significant is that?
Tom Burke: I think that it’s very significant. When the first agreement was made in Paris last year, the momentum for it was built by exactly this sort of thing, by America and China, as the biggest polluters, getting together, and they really created a big momentum. So the agreement was made in December, and now that we are going to ratify that agreement, it’s the same thing happening again. And that means that around half the countries that need to ratify before that deal comes into force have ratified it. So we are really on our way to having this agreement coming into force by the end of the year, which is real progress, especially when you think that this is likely to be the third year in a row that it will be the warmest year ever, so we really do need to get on with things.
Sky News: So when they sign this accord, what actually are they agreeing to Tom?
Tom Burke: What they have agreed to is that they will reduce emissions so that we keep the rise in temperature “well below” 2 degrees Centigrade, and if possible try to keep it below 1.5 degrees. So it’s a very, very ambitious agreement, to move from a high carbon economy to a low carbon economy, and to do it very rapidly indeed.
Sky News: And who is going to hold these countries to account once it all kicks in? Ban-Ki Moon is saying by the end of the year it should be ratified, so once this happen who is going to hold these countries to account?
Tom Burke: One of the things that is important about this agreement is that there will be a ratchet mechanism that keeps both lots of transparency of what countries are actually doing, and then gets them to meet every few years and wind up their ambition. But the important piece about this agreement is that we are changing from a position where the political risks of doing something about climate change are now going down, and the political risks of not doing anything are going up, so the underlying equation is changing. So it’s easier for governments to get agreement to do the things that are necessary. Also we are seeing that the focus of the debate is shifting away from being a debate about how do you stop carbon, a bad thing, coming out of our economy, to how do you actually take advantage of the falling cost of renewables, and the falling cost of batteries, to take the opportunity of building a cheaper, cleaner, faster energy system. I think that what we are going to see is much more competition between countries to take advantage of the economic opportunities, rather that people trying to cheat on the commitments that they have made.
Sky News: So do you think that there is going to be quite a big impact on industry? That all these positives that you’re talking about will actually outweigh the negatives?
Tom Burke: I think that is exactly right, and I think that is a very important message for the fossil fuel industries to take on board so that they don’t become barriers to what is really a better world that we are building for the future. And it’s also important for governments to understand that you can’t just switch off the existing fossil fuel industries, you have got to help them adjust. As we saw Mrs Clinton doing recently in coal country in the US, talking about what you do with the coal miners that you no longer need. We can’t just walk away and abandon them. So we have to start going beyond the piece where we’re just thinking about how do you reduce emissions, to how do you cope with the social consequences of the large scale transition that we are undergoing?
Sky News: And just finally Tom, Obama said that it’s “the day we decided to save the planet”. Do you think that we are past the point of no return when it comes to emissions? Or do we still have hope?
Tom Burke: I think that we still have hope. We have lots of reason to hope, largely because technology and markets are really delivering for us. We don’t really have any technological obstacles to staying below 2 degrees, and there are no economic obstacles to doing it. It’s really about the politics. It’s about the change in the pattern of winners and losers that will occur, and how you make sure that the losers don’t get in the way of the winners.
Sky News: Thank you so much. Tom Burke, the Chairman of Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G).