'We can't compromise with Earth': PM urges action on climate change

Rallying cry from Brown as global negotiations to reduce emissions falter
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The Independent Online

World leaders must break the impasse over faltering climate-change negotiations as preparations intensify for the UN meeting in Copenhagen this December, Gordon Brown will urge today.

Copenhagen could change the course of history, but negotiations over a new climate-change agreement have stalled with the risk of catastrophic global warming this century, the Prime Minister will say in an address to the Major Economies Forum (MEF) in London.

"We must frankly face the plain fact that our negotiators are not getting to agreement quickly enough," he intends to say. "So I believe that leaders must engage directly to break the impasse. We cannot compromise with the Earth. We cannot compromise with the catastrophe of unchecked climate change; so we must compromise with one another. I urge my fellow leaders to work together to reach agreement amongst us, recognising ... the dire consequences of failure."

Mr Brown believes it is vital that the world agrees on the strict control of greenhouse-gas emissions and on the movement to a low-carbon global economy at the forthcoming meeting in Copenhagen. He points out that there are now only 50 days left to set the agenda for the next 50 years. "If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement, in some future period, can undo that choice. By then it will be irretrievably too late," he will tell the MEF, a high-level talking-shop on climate change.

"This is a test of our ability to work together as nations facing common challenges in the new global era. We have shown this year in our approach to the global economic crisis how co-operation from all can benefit each. Now we must apply the same resolve and urgency to the climate crisis also facing us," Mr Brown will say.

"We cannot afford to fail. If we act now; if we act together; if we act with vision and resolve, success at Copenhagen is still within our reach. But if we falter, the Earth itself will be at risk. This is the moment. Now is the time. For the planet there is no 'Plan B'." A new analysis shows that the world must begin a low-carbon industrial revolution by 2014 at the latest, or runaway climate change will become almost inevitable. The report, from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), sets out a timetable outlining the action required by industry to limit the world's carbon emissions, and keep global temperature rise to beneath the danger level of C.

The analysis, by Climate Risk, a leading consultancy, suggests that, beyond 2014, the upper limits of industrial growth rates will make it impossible for market economies to lower emissions enough to limit the worst impacts of global warming. "Clean industry sectors can only expand so far, so quickly," said Keith Allott, the head of climate change at the WWF-UK. "If we wait until later than 2014 to begin aggressively tackling the problem, we will have left it too late to ensure all the low-carbon solutions required are ready to roll out at the scale needed, if we intend to keep within the world's remaining carbon budget."

The report's release was timed to coincide with the London meeting of the MEF, which was started by US President Barack Obama this year and is intended to smooth the progress towards the climate conference.

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, is hosting the meeting, which involves environment and energy ministers from the largest economies in both the developed and developing worlds, from the US and the UK on the one hand to China and India on the other. The ministers will be discussing some of the sticking points which emerged in the last session of pre-Copenhagen negotiations in Bangkok 10 days ago. The talks on a new climate treaty, which would limit carbon emissions from all countries, resume in Barcelona in two weeks.

"With the MEF forum in London, this report is a compelling reminder of the scale of effort and the speed of action needed if we're going to make the global transition towards low- and zero-carbon economies before it's too late," Mr Allott said. The report says this transition requires simultaneous action on greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors. It warns that too much reliance on market mechanisms, such as carbon trading, would create serious problems, as these approaches can encourage a step by step deployment of low-carbon solutions.

Instead, the report calls for strong long-term investment frameworks to support emerging technologies, backed up by policies ranging from energy efficiency standards to feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, and an end to subsidies for the use of dirty-fossil fuels.