Commentary

British climate diplomacy and the COP18 talks – John Ashton on the Today Programme and Guardian

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John Ashton, one of E3G’s founding directors, was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 Today progamme on the 4th December. Here, he discussed the COP18 climate talks, UK energy policy and Britain’s diplomatic influence on climate issues. He has also written an article for the Guardian entitled “Doha climate talks: diplomacy begins at home” which looks at similar themes.

John argued that the UNFCCC climate talks are still an important process, and that these negotiations need to help finalise a climate deal by 2015. COP18 may not be the “cup final” of climate talks – but he believes it is important not to let them derail, especially after the fallout seen post-Copenhagen in 2009.

His Guardian article expressed similar sentiments:

Governments of the world’s leading economies [need to] make internationally binding commitments to cut their carbon emissions fast enough to keep climate change within the agreed threshold of 2C.

John further argued that British climate diplomacy has helped influence climate talks in recent years, and there has been a cross-party effort. However, a “war” on how to best decarbonise the economy has recently broken out between the energy secretary and the chancellor. Although he believes that the recent Energy Bill has generally been a success – it will unlock investment in renewables to 2020, make a decarbonisation target for electricity politically inevitable, and be good for growth, jobs and competitiveness .

However, in the Guardian he cautioned that Britain must be careful not to send out mixed signals but aim to show the world that it is serious about low-carbon growth:

[The UK’s climate] influence has always depended on the credibility of our domestic policies. How can we expect to persuade others if we are not doing ourselves what we ask of them?

John outlines some of the UK’s current climate policies that currently do not go far enough:

The UK’s green investment bank could provide a global role model. But the Treasury will not let it borrow, so it cannot leverage private capital on the scale necessary to do its job. With our North Sea experience and world-class industrial expertise we should be setting the pace on carbon capture and storage. The coalition agreement promised public investment in CCS for four power stations. But no shovel has yet been lifted. The green deal has the potential to upgrade some of the most energy-profligate building stock in western Europe. But no loft or cavity wall has yet felt its impact.

Furthermore, better low-carbon energy investment would modernise infrastructure, drive innovation, strengthen demand and improve productivity – as well as protect the UK against oil and gas price shocks. Ultimately, national security and prosperity will be threatened by a lack of climate action and diplomacy and simply waiting for the US and China to act is “short-sighted”.

A link to John’s climate diplomacy article can be found on the Guardian website.

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