In just 11 weeks, the world will convene in Copenhagen, under the auspices of the United Nations, to forge a new international agreement on climate change. It is a historic moment: the ultimate test of global cooperation. Yet the negotiations are proceeding so slowly that a deal is in grave danger. (Story continued below...)
If we miss this opportunity, there will be no second chance sometime in the future, no later way to undo the catastrophic damage to the environment we will cause. So when world leaders gather this week, first at the United Nations in New York and then at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, it is essential that we move toward resolving the issues that still divide our nations. As scientists spell out the mounting evidence both of the climate change already occurring and of the threat it poses in the future, we cannot allow the negotiations to run out of time simply for lack of attention. Failure would be unforgivable.
Some argue that, amid demanding economic conditions, our resolve to meet environmental commitments should weaken, that the costs are too high. In fact, the opposite is true; a strong agreement in Copenhagen is essential for global economic recovery. For that recovery depends on the investment that an agreement will unleash. The economies that embrace the green revolution earliest will reap the greatest rewards.
Initially, more-efficient consumption of energy will bring greater overall productivity, as resources once directed to meet fuel bills are released for investment. Meanwhile the need for low-carbon energy production and infrastructure, in both the developed world and the rapidly growing emerging economies, will require up to $33 trillion of investment by 2030, according to estimates from the International Energy Agency. By 2015, the global environmental sector could be worth $7 trillion and sustain tens of millions of jobs.
But perhaps the most important element of this low-carbon future is the wave of innovation that will accompany the decarbonization drive. Some of the technologies required are fairly mature, such as onshore wind and household insulation—though even there, significant improvements are still to be made. But many others will see dramatic improvements and breakthroughs, both in performance and in cost.
This is beginning to happen already in areas such as large-scale battery design, stimulated by the acceleration of research into electric vehicles by the automotive industry. It is happening in sustainable building technologies, in new lightweight materials, in solar power, in carbon capture and storage, and in various lean manufacturing technologies. As innovations in one area feed into others, the economic potential and benefits will ripple out across the global economy.
So just as the revolution in information technologies provided a major motor of growth over the past 30 years, the transformation to low-carbon technologies will do so over the next. But it can be sustained only if governments back it—not just on a national scale, but globally. They need to act to create sufficient economic incentives and to ensure investor certainty and confidence.
This means sending clear and long-term signals about the direction of policy and shape of future demand, and market-based implementation methods to enable the private sector to respond innovatively. This has to be a genuine partnership of the public and private sectors.
That's why global agreement on a new climate-change regime in Copenhagen this December is so important. A strong deal that establishes legally binding commitments to reduce emissions will provide the confidence and certainty needed to underpin low-carbon investment. The U.N. talks are therefore not only about safeguarding the environment but also about stimulating economic demand and investment.
The U.K. government has set out our proposals for an agreement that is ambitious, effective, and fair. Ambitious in that it must put the world on a path to limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius; effective by establishing market mechanisms to reduce emissions efficiently alongside a strong regime of monitoring and verification; and fair in providing help to allow developing countries to tackle climate change. In June I suggested a working figure of $100 billion per year from public and private sources by 2020.
I have been gratified by the response of many countries, both in public and in private. But we need to move now toward securing an agreement in Copenhagen. I believe it can be done. And if it is necessary to clinch the deal, I will personally go to Copenhagen to achieve it—and will be urging my fellow leaders to do so too.