UK political leaders ink climate consensus ahead of election

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have made a rare joint statement, committing to act on climate change

Prime minister David Cameron signs a joint statement promising climate action (Pic: Stephen Lock)

Prime minister David Cameron signs a joint statement promising climate action (Pic: Stephen Lock)

By Megan Darby

Leaders of the UK’s three main political parties have pledged their support for action on climate change, in an extraordinary display of unity.

As campaigning ramps up for a general election in May, the prime ministerial candidates showed climate change is one thing they agree on.

David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister and Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour opposition, have signed a joint statement.

It made clear that whoever wins the election, the UK will push for a “fair, strong, legally binding” global climate deal in Paris this December.

They affirmed their commitment to setting UK carbon budgets in line with the Climate Change Act, which targets an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels.

That is particularly significant from Cameron, whose party faces a challenge on the right from UKIP, which wants to scrap the Act.

Finally, they promised to “accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy” and end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

The signed leaders’ climate pledge

Explaining the context for these pledges, the statement read: “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.

“Acting on climate change is also an opportunity for the UK to grow a stronger economy, which is more efficient and more resilient to the risks ahead. It is in our national interest to act and to ensure that others act with us.”

It is “vital” to get a successful deal in Paris and the UK will “play its part in ensuring an ambitious outcome”, the leaders said.

Ed Miliband with Noah Brierley, aged 10. Noah said: “I don't want to lose popcorn, because it is a nice food, and it is nice to have it with your friends, this would be [lost] because the weather from climate change would stop corn growing in the fields.”

Ed Miliband with Noah Brierley, aged 10. Noah said: “I don’t want to lose popcorn, because it is a nice food, and it is nice to have it with your friends, this would be [lost] because the weather from climate change would stop corn growing in the fields.”

The agreement was brokered by the Green Alliance, a think-tank that aims to “inject an environmental perspective into the political life of Britain”.

It was published on Valentines Day as part of the Climate Coalition’s “show the love” campaign.

Under the tag #fortheloveof, it encourages people to share the things they want to protect from the threat of climate change.

Miliband and Clegg took part in the campaign, meeting child campaigners and writing down things they loved on green hearts.

Backing the campaign, celebrities including Stephen Fry, Meera Syal and Deborah Meaden recorded a video of Shakespeare’s famous sonnet: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…”

Politicians and business leaders hailed the leaders’ pledge.

Al Gore, former US vice president and climate change campaigner, said the “political courage” shown was “exactly what our world most needs in order to solve the climate crisis”.

The degree of consensus between the three parties, which currently hold 616 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons, stands in stark contrast with the US.

While president Barack Obama has made climate change a core theme of his last two years in office, it remains a deeply divisive issue politically.

US senators recently voted just 50-49 in support of the scientific consensus that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.

Nick Clegg with Ruby Tegg, 7, and Ava Holland, 8

Nick Clegg with Ruby Tegg, 7, and Eva Holland, 8. Ruby: “I’m going to miss London, because as the planet is getting hotter the polar ice caps are melting, and if they melt London is going to be submerged beneath the waves.” Eva: “I am going to miss chocolate, because as the earth is getting hotter, it will be too hot for cacoa beans, so the cacoa beans won’t be able to grow, so then there won’t be any cacoa beans to make chocolate”

Even in British politics, “consensus is a rare thing,” said Lord Ashdown, a former Liberal Democrat leader, “but this makes agreement even more powerful when it is reached”.

Investors should “take assurance”, he added, that the UK would continue down a low carbon path after the election.

Paul Polman, chief executive of consumer goods giant Unilever, agreed: “The importance of this pledge cannot be overstated.

“In this critical year, both for the international climate change negotiations and the agreement of the sustainable development goals, this statement of cross-party recognition of the importance of climate action, as well as support for a legally binding global deal, sets a terrific example for other countries to follow.”

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