3 december 2008

Climate action

Financial Times December 3 2008 22:25 | Last updated: December 3 2008 22:25

Sometimes deferring pain simply makes matters worse. We can only hope this point is not lost on the government delegates currently gathered at the United Nations climate change conference in Poznan, Poland. There to continue negotiations for a new treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol, the representatives of some 190 countries are finding that progress, even on this burning concern, can be tortuously slow.

There is near unanimous agreement about one thing: not acting quickly to curb global greenhouse gas emissions could have catastrophic consequences. But the deepening economic downturn has led some to believe that action should be postponed. Already a number of countries in Europe, led by Poland, have been lobbying for concessions on the European Union’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

An economic winter should not drive political leaders into hibernation. Most would recognise that climate change is something approaching a perfect moral storm – a political, economic and environmental challenge of the utmost gravity. What we do now, or fail to do now, will have consequences for future generations.

In any case, there are good economic reasons for urgency. As Lord Stern told the Financial Times in its special report on climate change this week, a recession should not justify a deferral of action. Shifting from a high-carbon economy to a low-carbon one would deliver improved energy efficiency, as well as create jobs in green industries. Failing to go green as soon as possible would merely delay the inevitable costs of adjustment.

There is promise of renewed momentum from some quarters. Barack Obama, the US president-elect, has indicated he will make climate change a priority. The British government has shown commendable leadership – “carbon budgets” are now enshrined in law until 2022, making the UK the first country to have legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets. But the position of the rest of the EU does not look so steadfast.

On matters green, Europeans were long able to take the high ground ahead of a recalcitrant President George W. Bush. Now, when EU leaders meet in Brussels in a week’s time, European credibility will be on the line. Any international agreement on climate change will work only if developing economic giants such as China and India can be persuaded to cap their emissions. Officials in Poznan, but especially in Brussels next week, must now show an unwavering commitment to action.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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