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Neither masochistic, nor unilateral

BryonyWorthington.jpgBryony Worthington on why the reality-deniers are wrong about the need for action on climate change

Earlier this week, in response to a question in the Lords from my colleague Larry Whitty, Lord Lawson urged the government to rethink the UK’s approach to climate change, and to back away from what he called “unilateral masochism”. Later today in the House, we will have another short debate about climate change as I pose another climate question to the new DECC Minister Lord Bourne. I expect Lord Lawson – or another of the merry band of contrarians – to use the occasion to make the same reality-denying comments. But it is wrong to assume that our approach to tackling climate change is any kind of masochism, let alone unilateral.

Since the last Labour government passed the ground-breaking Climate Change Act in 2008, committing us to a long term legally binding reduction in our emissions, much has changed. Scientists have become more unequivocal in their calls for action; the EU has agreed a target for emissions reductions of at least 40% by 2030; and climate change laws have been passed in over 100 countries. China meanwhile, has indicated it is seeking to peak its emissions by 2030, with the latest statistics indicating this will happen earlier.

The United States, under Obama, has been actively engaged abroad in climate diplomacy to win a new international climate deal as part of the President’s legacy. And, prevented by Congressional Republicans from passing new Federal laws, it is using the existing Clean Air Act to try to limit emissions at home; and also channelling significant funding into clean energy R&D via the ARPA –E  program.

So, it is not masochism but enlightened self interest to pursue this course. A new clean energy industrial revolution will boost productivity and contribute to economic growth. 

For the first time the three biggest emitting political heavy weights are expected to sign a new deal that will codify what is already a reality on the ground. Concerted action to tackle the growing climate risk is already underway, but we must now build momentum and go further and faster in our efforts to halt the global experiment we are currently conducting with our atmosphere. 

My question to Ministers today was tabled to coincide with a mass lobby of Parliament organised by an alliance of NGOs working under the banner of ‘For the Love Of…. I am delighted, so soon after the general election, civil society is mobilising to remind parliamentarians that climate change is an issue that cannot be ignored. Particularly this year, when the UK needs to play an active role in securing new Sustainable Development Goals and a new international deal on climate change in Paris. 

In the run up to the election, the three party leaders signed up to a cross-party pledge covering not only the Paris summit but also the need to work together on both carbon budgets and the phasing out of unabated coal from our electricity mix. The Conservative manifesto omitted the coal one but also included unhelpful and destabilising threats to onshore wind, including the scrapping of subsidies and making it easier to block planning applications.

With an Energy Bill expected in the Lords sometime this session, Peers will have an opportunity to see the colour of the government’s money when it comes to action on climate change. As we debate these issues today, the fact that so many people have participated in the mass lobby gives me confidence that it will not be Lord Lawson’s voice of pessimism that prevails. The UK’s shift to a zero carbon economy is well underway and while there is still work to do, with a fair wind I have every faith we will reach our destination. 

Baroness Bryony Worthington is Shadow Energy Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @bryworthington 

Published 17th June 2015

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commented 2015-06-17 11:18:52 +0100
I am uneasy about the timing set now by powers that be, of 2030. I think it will be far too late. Scientists in physics maths chemistry working with material put into computer models has readjusted as more data flows in from the sea, ice and the gases changing the atmosphere. That’s reality. They have the overall picture. The warnings now vary from 23 to 28 years before the planet becomes too hot to a graph in The Guardian last week giving a limit of 17 years.
The fallibility of mankind is the belief we can use reason to think our way out of any problem. There is a danger that religions might have money invested and countries pension funds in fossil fuels particularly in the Arctic.

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