David Miliband: We cannot curb global warming without EU action

Climate change is a global issue. We need international co-operation backed by rules

Share

It may seem arcane and technical, but yesterday's decision by the European Commission to reject all the carbon caps submitted by EU nations, except the UK's, represents a landmark in the fight against climate change.

We need to be clear about what happened yesterday. The European carbon trading scheme rations emissions from power stations and energy-intensive businesses. Companies can either stick to their quota or buy permits from companies who have made reductions. Nearly half of Europe's carbon emissions are covered by the scheme. Carbon trading works only if governments ratchet down the quotas they give to companies in line with their Kyoto obligations. But, as the Brussels authorities made clear, the proposals by European countries were wholly inadequate and need to be strengthened.

Yesterday was the stuff of Eurosceptic nightmares - Brussels imposing discipline on sovereign European nations. But climate change is a global issue. We need international co-operation backed by rules and institutions. The UK makes up just 2 per cent of global emissions. Europe together can make a significant contribution to global emissions, and has the weight to bring other countries on board and convince developing countries that industrialised nations are prepared to show leadership.

The lesson I draw from the Commission's actions is that the UK can play a strong role in international leadership. The first major decision taken by Alistair Darling and me in our new posts was to reduce the carbon allowances given to UK companies by 8 million tonnes - the most ambitious option on which we consulted.

We argued at the time that a strong UK policy would strengthen the European Commission's ability to push for strong carbon reductions across Europe. As a result, the UK is the only country to have its National Allocation Plan agreed by the Commission (though our plan was formally rejected due to a technical issue to sort out in relation to Gibraltar), and the European Commission is now asking other countries to raise their levels of ambition.

That is why the UK, through the Climate Change Bill and through international negotiation, must be prepared to be leaders in the shift to a low-carbon economy and press others to follow.

The next six months will be a test for European nations and the EU itself. Each nation must set out new proposals for more ambitious reductions in carbon dioxide. The European Commission should take steps to bring aviation into the emissions trading scheme at the earliest opportunity. Beyond this, they must examine the case for more radical reforms of the scheme.

Europe must commit to reducing greenhouse gases by 30 per cent by 2020 and ensure the allocations within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) are consistent with this goal. The Commission must secure the future of the EU ETS beyond 2012; link the scheme to emerging carbon markets around the world, such as California, so that it can become the basis of a global carbon market; and scale up the use of the Clean Development Mechanism that allows businesses to buy emissions reductions in developing countries - a mechanism that involves major transfers of resources from North to South.

The emerging role for the EU has a wider implication for British politics. The point is simple: any person who is serious about climate change has to be serious about strengthening the EU. This poses an ideological dilemma for the Tories. If David Cameron is to be credible on green issues, he will have to resolve the contradiction between being pro-climate change, but dogmatically anti-European. Just as New Labour in the 1990s was prepared to focus on ends not means, even if it meant shedding our attachment to particular policies or prejudices, so, too, must the Tories.

The EU can and must become a major player in the fight against climate change. Global problems require the global co-operation and the EU can achieve this. Yesterday's decision is a start, but over the next year, climate change must become the defining goal for the EU's institutions, policies and budget. At a time when the Second World War is no longer a memory for most citizens but an important piece of history, the EU must find a new raison d'être based on future threats not past achievements. The EU must forge an Environmental Union.

The writer is Secretary of State for the Environment

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Cover Supervisor

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education have cover su...

Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Teaching Assistants/LSAAre you a T...

Female PE Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Female PE Teacher Required - Hum...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis  

Russell Brand's incoherent and scattergun approach to politics is Revolution as play

James Bloodworth
Tory whips have warned the Prime Minister that he could face a Tory revolt over the European arrest warrant  

A bizarre front for the Tories’ campaign against Europe

Nigel Morris
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker