Tackling climate change will require local, national and international action

At Durban, leaders must show they understand the scale of the climate change emergency.

As delegates continue their discussions in Durban for the 17th Climate Change Conference they do so in the knowledge that this represents the last chance for developed nations to sign up to a second term of the Kyoto Protocol, which specifies legal limits for their carbon dioxide emissions, before it expires at the end of next year.

Recently I had the opportunity to join Oxfam to see for myself their REE CALL Livelihood interventions in the Satkhira District, Bangladesh. Whilst I was there I met with a number of women's groups who had come together to look at reducing the risks associated with climate change and increasing local risk awareness. They wanted to take more control and responsibility for their futures and had joined together to establish their local climate risks, priorities and to write a plan for local action. These community groups, formed to confront one specific issue, have started to branch out to look at other challenges they face.

Those women lived under constant threat from rising waters and devastating cyclones, and yet their hope and optimism was inspirational. It was heartening to see that at the same time as the Bangladeshi Prime Minister was hosting a vulnerable countries forum with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to start addressing the challenge of climate change, local groups were organising to protect their communities and to build a better future for themselves and their children.

At the same time in the UK, Caroline Flint was launching the Labour Party's Climate Change Pledge which called on David Cameron to start showing international leadership on this issue. This means:

  • Seizing the opportunity to build a low carbon economy;
  • Pushing for a second period of the Kyoto protocol and working towards a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Delivering on climate finance.

It is this kind of action at a local, national and international level which is needed if the world is to meet the challenge of climate change.

Durban presents the UK and international community with yet another chance to show they understand the scale of the climate change emergency. Political leaders owe it to the women I met in Bangladesh and millions of others around the world to take bold and decisive action.

I travelled to Bangladesh with the GAVI Alliance for World Pneumonia Day, which is a day organised to highlight that pneumonia remains the world's leading killer of children under 5 and is largely preventable through vaccines. The GAVI Alliance is a public private global health organisation that helps to provide these vaccines to some of the world's poorest people. Earlier this year, the UK Government pledged an additional GBP 814 million to support GAVI, which has helped immunise 288 million children and saved an estimated five million lives since 2000. The organisation is looking to immunise more than 250 million children from 2011-2015 and save over 4 million additional lives.

I was delighted to be able to see the fantastic work GAVI are carrying out on the ground and you can see my World Pneumonia Day report from the field here.

Ivan Lewis is the shadow secretary of state for international development

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.