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A crucial moment of choice

A crucial moment of choice

A girl rows her boat across a flooded village in Kandal province after heavy rains in October. AFP

The time is now, in the negotiations in Copenhagen, to come together for a positive future for ourselves and our children

Ed Miliband

We must summon the political will to expand the realm of the possible.

HAVING arrived in a city besieged by people and paper, I am clear about one thing: Copenhagen is not just another international negotiation. It is a crucial moment of choice for all of us. I am determined that we will make the right choice.

Whether these talks succeed or fail, the world will be transformed by the middle of this century. Our choice is how. We can choose a future we want for ourselves and our children or we can let events choose a less positive future for us.

If we succeed in tackling climate change, the world will have been transformed by our own efforts. Nations will have worked together to reduce our carbon emissions. We will have built a carbon-neutral energy system – with new jobs and new growth. We will have deployed a huge array of low-carbon technologies. Our economies will be more energy secure. Cooperation will have triumphed over rivalry.

If we fail, the world will already have seen a two-degree rise in temperature. It will be irreversibly on its way to four degrees and beyond.

A map I launched last month shows how unmanageable that world will be – with flood and drought making food and water scarce for hundreds of millions of people. Competition for resources will be triumphing over cooperation.

This is the choice we will be making in Copenhagen. We have the technology, and, despite the recession, the necessary transformation of our energy system is affordable. The question is whether we can summon the collective political will.

The stakes for humanity could not be higher, which is why British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the first of more than 130 national leaders to promise to attend.

As we enter the second week, everything is still there to play for. The shape of the core bargain to be struck is clear. It must reflect the industrialised world’s responsibility for most of the carbon burden accumulated to date.

But it must also look forward to where the future growth of that burden will come from as the emerging economies prosper and grow.

Industrialised countries have to agree to cap the amount of carbon they emit. The EU was first to table an ambitious offer, and since then momentum has been building. We now have substantial offers on the table from all major developed countries, with the US, Japan, Norway and Russia all setting out their proposals since the summer.

At the same time, emerging economies need to be clear about the actions they are going to take to avoid emitting carbon. This is also happening already: Brazil, China, Indonesia, South Africa and the Republic of Korea have all said what they will do.

Our task here at Copenhagen is to make sure that these offers add up to enough to put the world on a path to stay below two degrees of warming. Together, we need to stretch our offers and do something more than is currently on the table.

The UK is making a leading effort. We are the first country to set a legally binding target to cut emissions by 34 percent by 2020 on 1990 levels, towards an 80 percent cut by 2050. The UK can do even more as part of the EU. As Gordon Brown said recently, we are working to make it possible for the EU to raise its offer to 30 percent.

Industrialised countries must also bring to the table short- and longer-term proposals to fund action in the developing world, either to adapt to the climate change we can’t avoid or to reduce emissions.

This should amount, by 2020, to US$100 billion per year. This will have huge potential for low-carbon growth in poor countries that can lift millions out of poverty and give people access to clean energy, as well as protecting them from the impact of the climate change we have already allowed to happen.

There are many other important issues to be agreed, but the heart of the bargain is this: developed country emissions caps, emerging economy action and funding to make it happen. Unless it is settled, there will be little progress on other matters.

To complete the choice, the political deal that world leaders agree at Copenhagen must become the mandate to finalise a legally binding treaty by the middle of 2010 at the latest.

Politics, we are constantly reminded, is the art of the possible. Success in Copenhagen requires more. We must summon the political will to expand the realm of the possible. That is what political leadership means. It is within our reach; we now need to grasp it.
Ed Miliband is the UK’s secretary of state for climate change and is leading the British delegation to the climate talks in Copenhagen.


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