With the clock ticking and less than a hundred days to go until ministers from around the world meet at the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, now is the time for the U.K. and India to work together to get a climate deal that is fair to the region’s economy and its people.
We are here in South Asia to hear what climate change means for millions of people in India and Bangladesh. For this region, the case for the urgency of tackling climate change is beyond question. Flooding of the Kosi river over the past two years has driven millions from their homes in Nepal and Bihar. Cyclones Aila and Nargis have killed thousands and displaced millions more in Burma, Bangladesh and West Bengal. Torrential rains have caused terrible landslides across the Himalayas. And now a weakened monsoon is causing a drought which threatens hundreds of millions of farmers all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Once again, the number of farmer suicides is increasing. While none of these natural disasters can be directly attributed to climate change, scientists predict that they will become more frequent and more severe unless we act. Alongside the terrible human toll, these disasters exact an economic cost — with the loss of economic growth in South Asia from environmental causes equivalent to double that from the global economic crisis, each and every year.
It is the poorest who are most vulnerable to these natural disasters. And it is the poorest who are most severely affected by climate change. They must be at the forefront of our minds as we decide what sort of deal we want at Copenhagen. Doubly so, because they have done the least to cause the problem and their voices are rarely heard in the negotiations or the media. It is their voice we have come to South Asia to hear. Yet we have also come to listen to those communities, businesses and Governments around the region who are pioneering responses to climate change. From sustainable forestry in Nepal, to flood-resistant crops in Bangladesh, to renewable energy production in India, there is much to learn. We can also draw encouragement and optimism that the world is taking the issue more seriously. In July world leaders, including Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Gordon Brown, agreed to strive to keep global temperature rise within a 2 degrees threshold, beyond which the risks of dangerous climate change rise significantly.
As well as coming to listen, we have also come to South Asia to explain that we recognise the role that developed countries must play in facing up to our duties to help solve the problem of climate change. And we are here to work with the Indian and Bangladeshi governments, to help secure an ambitious, fair and effective deal in Copenhagen.
Firstly, the U.K. recognises developed countries’ historic responsibility for climate change. The developed world must lead in the response and must do more. That means ambitious commitments to reduce emissions, including from the United States and Europe. The U.K. has set out plans to reduce its emissions by one third by 2020 compared to 1990 and our Climate Change Act puts our stringent targets in legislation. We are prepared to go even further as part of a global deal.
Secondly, developed countries must meet our commitment to provide the finance and technology to help developing countries address the challenges of climate change. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently launched a climate finance initiative which put a global figure of around $100 billion every year by 2020 to help developing countries address climate change, including adapting to its impacts. Finance needs to flow in the context of an ambitious global deal. Thirdly, on the basis on the basis that action must be lead by developed countries, we recognise that at this stage, developing countries in South Asia will not take on national emission reduction targets. But equally, we know that allied to strong action by developed countries, we need developing countries to pursue a low carbon development path if we are to have a hope of tackling the problem of climate change.
That is why it is welcome that India is taking important steps to increase the use of renewable energy, particularly solar power, to increase the energy efficiency of its economy and to increase forest cover. It is demonstrating the carbon savings that can be achieved through these actions. But it is taking these steps to put its economy onto a low carbon path because it recognises the benefits for its energy security and sustainable development. Bangladesh, a very low-energy consuming country, is pursuing a low-carbon growth path whilst building its resilience to climate change, reducing the risks climate change poses to national development.
This is the kind of action which the U.K. stands ready to assist. We are keen to learn how, as part of a global climate deal, we can help India and Bangladesh to build on these plans, thereby helping to tackle together the climate challenge and lift millions more out of poverty. We are here together because we recognise that whilst we cannot hope to eliminate poverty in South Asia without facing this global climate challenge; neither can we hope to achieve a global climate deal without facing this region’s development challenge. The decisions made in December at the climate conference will be some of the most important the world will take for decades and are vital for the future security and prosperity of South Asia.
We look forward to all countries playing their part in an outcome at the Copenhagen climate change talks which is good for development and good for the future sustainability of our planet.
To know more about U.K.’s position at Copenhagen, visit: www.actoncopenhagen.gov.uk
( Ed Miliband is British Minister for Energy and Climate Change. Douglas Alexander is the Minister for International Development.)