Ed Davey says politicians must not ‘flunk’ climate change chance

UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey yesterday spoke of his pride in helping to deliver low-carbon legislation in Britain and added that he felt the world was on the cusp of a breakthrough on tackling climate change.

He said that the UK “is leading in terms of a technology-neutral approach to decarbonizing the economy”.

“Europe’s deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 is something I’ve put my personal time into. It Europeanizes the Climate Change Act, making a more level playing field – it requires other countries to do more, and more flexibly, than in the 2020 deal.”

He said that Parliament had “tried to keep the political consensus together – there’s been lots of debate between the parties, but the truth is that only six MPs in 2008 voted against the Climate Change Act. What other country has that kind of consensus? In 2013 only nine MPs voted against Electricity Market Reform. In a world of oil and gas price and technology uncertainty, we’ve tried to create an overall framework which people can plan their business and their lives on.”

With a UK general election coming in May which could see the break-up of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, Davey (a Lib Dem) said that “energy and climate change policy is in a good state for the next person after the election”.  On a personal note, he said: “I'd like to continue to do my job, please... But more likely I'll be handing on baton.”

Speaking at EnergyLive2014 in London, he reiterated his determination to stamp out unabated coal use. “We have the technology already available to replace it. I want to see it effectively banned except with carbon capture and storage by 2025.”

He said the UK was “way ahead of the rest of Europe on CCS”. Indeed he claimed that “Europe doesn’t even talk about CCS” while the UK has two major projects – White Rose and Peterhead.

Internationally, he said he was optimistic on climate change. “The US, China and India are the world’s three largest emitters so we have to get them to the table. Although the US Congress is now controlled by Republicans, Obama’s strategy is to focus on executive powers because he’s not able to get legislation through. They’re looking at old laws, particularly the 1970 Clean Air Act, which they can use now to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.”

He said President Obama’s current strategy could be key to involving China.

“If what Obama would do through executive orders would stick if he was succeeded by a climate change-denying president – if it couldn’t be undone – then China will come to the table. It wants climate change and is worried about air pollution in its big eastern cities.”

He said China “sees tackling environmental issues as a key thing to do to hold onto power and is moving on this in a way that would have been almost unthinkable two years ago”.

He also praised the climate efforts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “India has been a black marker for some time but Modi has a fantastic record on the environment.” He said Modi introduced India’s first climate change department when he was chief minister of Gujarat and had also driven investment in wind and other forms of renewable energy.

He said that all these elements taken together meant that the “constellation of global politics on climate change is better than ever. This is our chance and we must not flunk it.”

Davey also drew applause for his response to a climate physicist who said that man-made climate change is “delusional nonsense. Man’s emissions to the atmosphere are only four per cent of the total: a lot of the rest is cows farting and so forth.”

Davey responded: “The question shows you don’t understand the physiology of cows – 99 per cent of their flatulence comes from their burping rather than their farting. You may be a physicist, but you’ve got a little work to do on the other parts of science.”

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