UK foreign secretary hails economic benefit of climate action

Philip Hammond gives his first speech on climate change on a visit to US wind facility with John Kerry

By Megan Darby

The UK foreign secretary hit out at “purists and idealists” in the climate change debate during a trip to the US this week.

In his first speech to focus on climate change, Philip Hammond said the debate had been “dominated” for too long by “people who are happy at the notion we would have to sacrifice economic growth to meet the climate challenge”.

Visiting a wind technology test centre in Massachusetts with US secretary of state John Kerry, Hammond rejected the idea there was a trade-off between climate action and economic growth.

Hammond and Kerry stressed in a joint Boston Globe op-ed ahead of the event that the clean energy sector could create jobs.

In a speech to workers and local dignitaries at the wind facility, Kerry said: “Never before has a threat like climate change found in its solution such a level of opportunity.”

Both were also clear on the need for action.

“We have to take the precautionary principle, we have to plan for the worst possible outcome and we have to protect future generations,” said Hammond.

“In the case of climate change, even the most likely scenario could have catastrophic consequences… The worst case is even more severe.”

Kerry added: “We still have in our hands a window of opportunity in which to make a difference.

“The window is closing quickly. That is not a threat, that is a fact.”

He admitted the US was “behind Europe in some respects” but highlighted its policies to cut emissions from vehicles and power sources.

Policy priority

US president Barack Obama has made climate change a theme of his second term in office.

Developed countries are expected to present national plans for combating climate change early next year.

These are to lay the groundwork for a global climate deal in Paris, December 2015.

Obama’s international adviser has said leaders will bring the subject up at the next G20 summit in Brisbane, despite Australia’s refusal to put it on the agenda.

The G20 is primarily a forum for economic issues, among the world’s 20 wealthiest countries.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who notoriously scrapped his country’s carbon tax, suggested there were more important things than climate change to talk about.

But think-tank the Committee for Economic Development  in Australia said Abbott lacked the authority to dismiss the issue.

Caroline Atkinson, US deputy national security adviser for international economics, confirmed that other people round the table were likely to bring it up.

She told the Financial Review: “As extreme weather events have become more frequent, as the next key date in the international negotiations on climate which is December 2015 comes closer, there is more of a focus among leaders…

“We expect leaders will have a discussion about that.”

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