EU alliance with small island states vital to success of Doha talks – UK minister

By Ed King
RTCC in Doha

UK climate minister Greg Barker says rebuilding trust between the European Union and developing states is now a priority with just five days left of the UN climate summit in Doha.

Splits in what was termed the ‘Durban Alliance’ have widened over the past week, with the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) claiming the EU’s current emission reduction targets and financial pledges are far short of what they expect.

The coalition came together at the last conference in Durban, pushing through proposals for a global climate deal in 2015, and is regarded as critical as it brings together states from the developed and developing world.

Speaking at a media briefing this morning, Barker, who is attending his third major UN climate summit, acknowledged that his first job would be to see how the UK could build bridges with disaffected parties.

“The coalition in Durban between AOSIS, the EU, LDCs and Progressive Latins was extremely powerful in terms of a coalition for high ambition, and I think we need to make sure that holds, and we don’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the best available,” he said.

“I’ll be trying to hold that coalition together and make sure we keep up the pressure for high ambition.”

The word ambition appears everywhere at the Doha talks, but few seem clear what it actually means on a political level or how it can be translated into the substantial emission cuts needed to keep global warming to safe levels.

A report out today from the Tyndall Centre shows that global emissions from burning fossil fuels are now 58% above 1990 levels, the baseline for the Kyoto Protocol.

This follows a series of studies in recent weeks warning of melting polar ice sheets, rising sea levels and more extreme weather conditions.

No-one we have spoken to in Doha believes the conference will end with an agreement to cut global emissions in line with what the science demands.

UK energy and climate Secretary Ed Davey admitted as much last night when he released a statement calling for stronger emission reduction measures to be adopted ahead of a proposed global deal in 2015.

Barker admits that the Kyoto Protocol as it stands, covering under 15% of world emissions, is simply not up to the task, and argues that talks aimed at drawing the planet’s largest emitters into a framework will prove more valuable in the long term.

“The UK would love to be raising the level of ambition and going faster, delivering sooner, but we are only one piece of the jigsaw”, he said. “We’ve got to bring China, America, India and the other BASIC economies. We are absolutely committed to doing our part, but Ed’s right that the science is getting clearer and clearer.”

Responding to questions over the veracity of climate science, and in particular the rising number of climate contrarians in his own Conservative Party, Barker said the transition to a low-carbon economy made sense from a business and risk perspective, arguing UK leadership would benefit the economy long-term.

“This isn’t about being absolute, it is about a probability of risk, being prudent and also making sure in terms of domestic policy, having a no regrets policy,” he said.

Barker added that the delivery of £2.9 billion of climate finance from April 2011 to March 2015 should be viewed as much as an investment as development aid, arguing that funds would be used to develop a global economy in which the UK would thrive.

“It’s a huge opportunity, the coalition is committed to much greater alignment between our high ambition through these talks and the dispersal of our funds through our international climate finance and actually where we see a competitive advantage for UK PLC,” he said.

“I see no problem with being rapaciously commercial in this respect because we have to lead the world onto a low-carbon economic model so let’s go lead it and get the business advantage of doing it.”

UK energy and climate change minister Greg Barker on ambition, AOSIS talks, Kyoto Protocol negotiations and need for political will

GREG BARKER from Responding to Climate Change on Vimeo.

Read more on: Climate politics | COP18 | EU | | |