UK sees climate as “biggest diplomatic challenge” says lead envoy

Low carbon leadership essential to protect country’s economic future, says Sir David King 

By Ed King

London is leading efforts to secure a global carbon cutting pact in Paris later this year, its chief climate envoy said on Tuesday.

“The British government is probably making a bigger effort on international negotiations than any other government,” Sir David King told an audience at the London-based IPPR thinktank.

“We see climate change as the biggest diplomatic challenge of our era.”

King, the government’s chief scientist from 2000-2007, said British embassies were working overtime to secure an ambitious deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have a large number of full time climate attaches, a significant number in the embassy in Beijing, and we do focus our energy on countries where a changing position is critically important,” he said.

Over 190 countries are currently engaged in talks over a treaty that would see warming limited to below 2C above pre industrial levels.

Temperature rises above that zone could see more droughts, floods, rising sea levels and other extreme weather events, a UN-backed panel of scientists warned last year.

Funding shortfall

Last year RTCC revealed the Foreign Office had slashed spending on core climate activities by 39% between 2011-2014, from £7.5 million to £4.5.

Asked if the government had committed more support ahead of Paris, King said all climate diplomats had been protected, and insisted he had the full support of foreign secretary Philip Hammond.

King said a new study focused on climate risk – compiled with officials from the US and China – would be released in July to underline the need for an ambitious agreement.

And he argued UK leadership would benefit the country’s long-term economic growth, protecting it from investing in fossil fuel infrastructure that will be rendered obsolete in a low carbon future, also known as stranded assets.

Critics of the government’s energy plans say low carbon sources of fuel are too expensive compared to coal or gas, but King cited falling costs of solar and wind as evidence this was changing.

“We’re sitting among the leaders. I think that gives us an economic advantage,” he said.

“The business of planning where we need to be by 2050 means we can avoid stranded assets. I think that’s a critical pathway.”

“Being ahead of the game has very real advantages,” he added.

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