Sky News: The UK has formally signed up to the first climate change agreement that covers every country on earth. It comes as there is uncertainty over America’s role in the Paris Agreement. Donald Trump had described climate change as a hoax invented by China. I’m joined now by Tom Burke, chairman of Third Generation Environmentalism, and former senior advisor to the Foreign Secretary’s special representative on Climate Change. Good evening to you, Tom Burke. So the UK has formerly ratified this, signed up to today. What is the significance of the Paris Agreement?
Tom Burke: Well the real significance of the Paris Agreement is the way that it represents a real turning point when the political risk equation is changing, for governments now the political risk of failing to act on climate change is increasing, meanwhile the political risks of acting is decreasing, as the cost of renewables goes through the floor. So the events that the scientists have been predicting are now happening with increasing frequency, and really driving home to political leaders everywhere that this is a problem that is going to have major political impact on people’s prosperity and their security, and at the same time we are seeing that the cost of dealing with the problem are really going through the floor, as the cost of renewables goes down, the cost of storage goes down, we are beginning to see people take up all of the opportunities in a low-carbon economy.
Sky News: Yeah, what about the political risks, as you describe them, of Donald Trump? Who is a climate sceptic, he has previously claimed that climate change didn’t exist and he has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and promised a coal revival.
Tom Burke: Yeah, he is probably a political risk to more than the climate as well. But the reality is that there is not a huge amount that he can actually do to stop the momentum. He can certainly slow down the regulatory push. He can do things domestically that mean that legislation doesn’t drive a low-carbon economy forward faster in the US. He can’t really do much to stop the international community going forward. If you remember the Bush Administration pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, meanwhile the rest of the world got on with it and achieved the objectives. In that sense he can’t stop the world going ahead. The Chinese aren’t doing something about climate change because they care about what the President of the United States is thinking, they are doing something about climate change because it immediately affects their people, and they are going to go on doing that. So I don’t think that we are going to see a very dramatic change globally. Domestically, in the US, I think that we are going to see a slowing down of their efforts there. But you have to remember that in the US the reach of the president doesn’t run everywhere, there are going to be a lot of states, like California and other states, that are going to go on driving forward to take up the opportunities in a low-carbon economy, there are going to be a lot of cities going ahead and doing things, so I don’t think that we are going to see quite the same cataclysm that some people have said. I think we are going to discover that Elon Musk, the guy who is producing the electric vehicles at Tesla, is a much better businessman than Donald Trump.
Sky News: You talked about the costs of dealing with the problem of climate change, and I wonder if the economics might influence Donald Trump to change his position slightly, he is a businessman; he is a numbers man after all.
Tom Burke: I think that you are right about that. What might well influence Donald Trump, as it really should be influencing our own government, is the fact that the rest of the world really is moving on very fast with an energy transition, an energy revolution, that really is driving forward towards low-carbon. And because we have been a bit incoherent in our policy, are getting left behind, and there is a real risk that if Donald Trump does what he has been talking about, then the same thing will happen in the United States. So we will be surrendering massive amounts of market opportunities to the Chinese and the European countries, that are getting on with the energy revolution.
Sky News: How bigger challenge is it to meet this commitment that the Paris Agreement sets, and what changes will the UK and other countries have to make in order to do that.
Tom Burke: It is a very big challenge to meet it, and we are not going fast enough with what we are doing, so we are going to have to do more. Now that was recognised in the Paris Agreement, it was recognised that this was a start, and that we would have to keep upping what we are doing regularly. There is a so called ratchet mechanism that would drive things forward every five years. So we are going to have to go faster. What I suspect will happen is that we will end up making much better use of our resources in generating capacity, being much more efficient in the way that we use energy in our own homes, lowering our own bills, and in particular in many parts of the world it’s going to improve air quality, as we take out the emissions from vehicles and from power stations. So actually what we are going to see as we get on with this energy revolution, is lots of aspect of our lives improving, not just reducing the threat of climate change.
Sky News: And if we needed a reminder of why the Paris Agreement is necessary, we had the news this week that it is the warmest year on record.
Tom Burke: I think that is absolutely right, and we have seen this year, for instance, the hurricane season in the Indian and Pacific oceans was very aggressive. We are seeing a huge increase in the number of deaths and the amount of damage that is done by extreme weather events, and that is only one of the manifestations of an increasing climate. Almost every year this decade has been warmer than the year before, and that is a pretty alarming sign, as we what that scientists told us twenty years ago was going to happen, is actually happening a bit faster than they said.
Sky News: Ok. Tom Burke, thank you very much for joining us this evening on Sky News.