Letter on Copenhagen summit

Dear Editor,

A political agreement to prevent dangerous climate change is critical and achievable.

The world is five days into one of the most important global conferences of our time: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen (COP15). Negotiators currently getting down to work are tasked with coming up with a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol that will prevent the nightmare scenarios that many climate scientists have predicted becoming a reality. A formidable challenge.

Overwhelming scientific evidence – endorsed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – shows that human activity is the primary force driving climate change. The UK recognises that the developed world has historic responsibility for climate change and must make ambitious commitments to tackle its effects, including through making funds available to developing countries.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed, at last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the establishment of an annual fund which would make available $10bn to assist developing countries in tacking climate climate immediately after an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen.

COP15 is a crucial engagement in the battle against dangerous climate change and the UK has taken an increasingly proactive position on pressing for an ambitious political agreement at Copenhagen. This year we became the world’s first country to have a legally binding long-term framework to cut emissions, adapt to climate change and commit to a low carbon economy: the UK Climate Change Act. And we have played a leading role in the European Union and the Commonwealth to encourage commitment to higher emission cuts and greater availability of resources to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Collectively we need to agree an ambitious deal at Copenhagen to rise to this challenge. The UK believes that this should include:

  • A global recognition to reduce carbon emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050
  • Global temperature rise limited to 2 Degrees above pre-industrial levels.
  • Developed Country reduction targets that add up to least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Developing country actions that add up to at least 15% below business as usual for 2020.
  • Low carbon growth plans to prepare for transition to a global low carbon economy.

The above ambitions are a reflection of the importance the UK gives to recognising the developed world’s historic responsibility for global CO2 emissions, and the priority we have given to limiting the impact of dangerous climate change.

The UK has worked with Sri Lanka and Maldives as partners in tackling this critical global issue, over the past the year. In Sri Lanka, we funded a conference bringing together local environmental NGOs and the government to discuss critical issues that would be on the negotiating table in Copenhagen. In Maldives, we regularly discuss climate issues with the government and have welcomed their immense efforts to highlight the importance of acting against climate change. In particular, President Nasheed’s announcement to go carbon neutral by 2020 and the way Maldivian civil society have taken the initiative to support global climate change campaigns such as 350.org’s international day of action on 24 October 2009 have helped Maldives to lead the way in international debates on climate change.

Developing country commitments and actions have shifted the terms of negotiation in the path to Copenhagen but to achieve our global ambitions against climate change a sustained effort is needed. We look forward to continuing to work with Sri Lanka and Maldives to keep up the pressure through COP15 and beyond so that we do not leave climate change as a problem for the next generation.

Dr Peter Hayes is the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka/Maldives