Ed Davey: Personalities matter for UN Paris deal

Action by Obama, Modi and Xi shows the right people are in power for successful 2015 deal, says UK climate secretary

Pic: Liberal Democrats/Flickr

Pic: Liberal Democrats/Flickr

By Sophie Yeo

The personalities of Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi will be crucial to the success of the UN’s climate deal, according to UK climate and energy secretary Ed Davey.

Intensified efforts to tackle climate change by the leaders of the US, China and India are evidence that “the right people are in the right place at the right time,” he said in a speech to the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group.

Davey gave credit to Prime Minister Modi for “changing the mood” in India, and President Xi Jinping for China’s pursuit of an “ecological civilization” and moves towards a national carbon market.

Obama, he said, “is increasingly seeing climate change action as part of his legacy”.

“Although there remain political obstacles to overcome, the commitment of the White House to achieve agreement in Paris has never been so strong, of course supported by Secretary [John] Kerry,” he added.

Meanwhile, the EU countries remain “leading advocates of climate change action”.


Davey said he realised the importance of personality for the UN’s climate negotiations at the latest round of talks in Lima, Peru, where he was the longest serving energy secretary from the EU.

A Liberal Democrat in the UK’s coalition government, Davey has held his position for three years.

He has represented the UK at the UN climate talks for the last two years at Warsaw and Lima and established the Green Growth Group within the EU to promote actions towards a green economy.

“We should reflect that the historical record shows many examples of national leaders pursuing narrow interests, playing to domestic galleries, and ignoring wider imperatives and horrific costs,” he said.

“The stakes are very high. And that is why I do believe personality matters. It will matter who is sitting round the table in Paris in December.

“Who will be willing to take risks? To embrace enlightened self-interest? To move beyond the narrow confines of their domestic politics? To take that leap?”

Some were concerned in Lima that a deal was being cooked up between the governments in Washington and Beijing, which carry the greatest diplomatic weight due to their large economies and carbon footprint.

But, Davey claimed, there was not one country who wanted to leave the negotiations without a positive outcome.

International forum

The next eleven months represent a crucial period in international climate diplomacy.

Not only will countries have to submit their intended contributions to the UN deal, they will also have to agree on a draft text by May.

An interim round of UN talks kicking off next week in Geneva will be a crucial step in paving the way towards Paris, while negotiations set to conclude in September will lay out development goals for the next 15 years.

But Davey urged politicians to make use of “every international opportunity” to maintain momentum on climate action, including the Major Economies Forum meetings in April and July and G7 meetings in June.

Over the coming months “the negotiations are going to get tougher, and tensions are inevitable,” he said.

“I judge the prospects of a comprehensive climate deal to be the best since we first began this journey many decades ago.”

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