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10 September 2014

Miliband is under pressure to back the government’s climate change plan

Labour is facing a test of Ed Miliband's commitment to climate change ahead of its party conference later this month.

By Bob Ward

Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, yesterday urged the Labour Party to support ambitions for the UK Government to play a leading role in crucial global negotiations to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.

In a speech in London, Davey launched the Coalition Government’s strategy to promote a new international agreement on climate change, due to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

He paid tribute to Labour for gaining cross-party support for the landmark Climate Change Act in 2008, which set a long-term target to reduce the UK’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990.

And he called on Ed Miliband to endorse the Government’s strategy for the 15 months leading up to the Paris climate change conference because “we must show the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world that we speak with one voice on this”.

Miliband is already under pressure because he has not yet made a major speech about climate change since becoming Labour leader, despite being energy and climate change secretary in the last Government.

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Davey’s speech also stressed the importance of the UK’s role in formulating the European Union’s climate policies, but was made before further confusion was caused today by a re-structuring of the European Commission.

The European Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker, revealed that the directorates for climate action and energy would be merged from October.

It is just the latest in a series of developments that are making the European Union appear indecisive and weak ahead of talks to finalise the new treaty.

The international negotiations are being carried out under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has been signed by 195 Parties since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Countries failed to agree a new treaty in Copenhagen in 2009, although they did agree that annual global emissions should be cut in order to avoid the risks of dangerous climate change from a rise in global average temperature of more than two centigrade degrees.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in April that national policies around the world are not currently sufficient to stay below the agreed limit.

The United Nations Secretary-General is holding a summit in New York on 23 September in order to build support for the new treaty ahead of the Paris climate change conference.

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to join Ban Ki-moon and more than 125 other world leaders.

Barack Obama will top the bill, having made climate change a key issue for his second term.

He announced plans last year to sharply reduce carbon dioxide from power plants in the United States, and his administration has set up a joint working group with China to explore potential areas of cooperation.

Although President Xi JinPing is unlikely to attend the New York summit, the Chinese Government has acknowledged the importance of climate change and has been discussing whether to include a cap on greenhouse gases in its 13th five-year plan for 2016 to 2020.

However, the European Union is beginning to lag behind just as the two other largest emitters of greenhouse gases have started to show signs of progress.

The European Council failed to finalise its energy and climate change package for 2030 at its meeting in June, instead deferring a decision to “no later than October”.

Arguments are continuing over whether the 28 Member States should adopt a collective target of reducing annual emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 through domestic cuts, with some countries seeking a less ambitious commitment.

Poland is understood to be seeking to delay any agreement until possibly next year in order to secure assurances about financial assistance and supplies of gas if it closes down its coal-fired power stations.

But in his speech yesterday, Davey said “the EU should show a lead by agreeing this year an ambitious 2030 framework with a domestic target of at least 40 per cent”.

Despite his call for political consensus and UK leadership, Davey conspicuously failed to mention David Cameron’s participation in the New York summit, perhaps because it will take place the week before the start of the Liberal Democrat Party Conference.

It may prove more difficult for Miliband to ignore the summit because he will be putting the final touches to his speech at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester just as the Prime Minister is rubbing shoulders with other world leaders on 23 September.

Climate change could also become a key issue ahead of next year’s general election, with UKIP embracing denial of the scientific evidence as a key part of its energy policy, which includes scrapping the Climate Change Act.

Cameron is facing dissent within the ranks of the Conservative Party from many of his backbenchers, including former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who reject the science of climate change.

The Prime Minister linked climate change to the devastating floods earlier this year after the UK’s wettest winter on record.

Met Office records show that the UK’s seven warmest years and four of its five wettest years have all occurred from 2000 onwards.

January to August 2014 was also the warmest and wettest such period on record for the UK.

Bob Ward is a Fellow of the Geological Society and policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.