Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Accelerating climate change: where next for the Liberal Democrats

[My speech to the 2008 Liberal Democrat Conference, summing up the Urgent Issue debate: Polar Ice Caps: Accelerating Climate Change, Sunday 14 September 2008]

Last year, we Liberal Democrats became the first political party to commit to creating a zero carbon Britain by 2050.

We understand that Britain, like all developed countries, has to take a lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making the shift to a low carbon economy. We produced a plan to make it happen – at the international, EU and national levels.

And unlike the other parties, we have made the climate crisis a priority this year. Here, we should commend Steve Webb and his team for their efforts to strengthen the Climate Change Bill, so that future governments will be obliged to bring UK greenhouse gas emissions down to truly safe levels .

So that’s it then – paper written speeches made, job done?

Well, no. Liberal Democrats have to make tackling the climate crisis one of the main drivers of our next general election manifesto The evidence is mounting that the climate crisis is getting worse, not better; the challenges harder, not easier. We’ve heard some of it today.

This year has seen the launch of a global campaign,, that calls for a new international agreement to limit atmospheric C02 to 350 ppm, as against 385 ppm currently. That’s a more demanding target than the one we have now. But James Hansen and his colleagues have concluded that we are already in the danger zone and that 350 is the level we have to keep within to avoid any risk of massive and irreversible damage to the earth and all its inhabitants for generations to come.

I believe that the Liberal Democrats should support the campaign. More than that, we need new policies to make it happen – at European level, where that’s appropriate, and in the UK.

First, new solutions to achieve much higher energy efficiency and to speed up the shift to clean, low carbon energy sources. This includes new policies to boost renewable heat.

Second, policies to make sure that the UK takes a lead in bringing forward low carbon technologies. Let’s look at how we can get capital into those sectors.

One example is carbon capture and storage technologies, which can very quickly make coal use carbon-neutral. In the next three years, this country will spend £2.8bn a year on cleaning up its nuclear legacy. But it will invest nothing in deploying carbon capture and storage—one of the world's most important technologies for ensuring climate security. That must change.

Third, empowering consumers to make low carbon choices. The obvious place to start is ensuring that people have more accurate information about the carbon content of the energy they use and the products that they buy.

None of these things are easy . But we have to pursue them. Liberal Democrats have led the way in finding solutions to the climate crisis before. And we will do so again.

Because we understand that the impact of global warming is the biggest challenge, the biggest crisis that humankind has ever had to face.

The Liberal Democrats have led the way in meeting that challenge before. And we are going to do it again.

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