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 Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.