'The sense of guilt or culpability or reparations - I just categorically reject that.'

Chief US climate negotiator Todd Stern on being asked about climate debt, December 2009

'We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it.'

Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solon, December 2009

David Morris
South Carolina
October 2015


What Theresa May should say at the launch of the Clean Growth Strategy

·         Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth, 28 September 2017

Friends of the Earth's Craig Bennett argues it is the Prime Minister who should front the launch of a sweeping new economic strategy

Hurricane Irma and the horror floods in Asia this summer are yet another stark reminder that climate change is happening now, and will get worse. Humanity is a small ship, sailing into a dark storm, and the first squalls are starting to buffet us. But we can still steer clear. The spectacular global growth in wind and solar in recent years is a clear signal of hope.

But to realise and act on that hope we need our politicians to take far greater action - to treat climate change like the emergency it is, across all sectors of the economy.

Today the charity Plan B has threatened the Government with legal action if it does not align its climate change strategy with the Paris Climate Agreement. They're spot-on for highlighting this. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which advises the Government admits that the UK's targets are not strong enough, but argues that now is not the right time to change them, essentially because they don't yet have a clear plan for how to meet these tougher targets. But the clock is ticking - on some estimates there's less than a decade left before the "carbon budget" for the Paris 1.5 degree budget is used up. By the time we get our plan together, it will be too late.

At the heart of the CCC's advice is a grim and false pragmatism - set too tough a target, and it emboldens climate sceptics to argue action on climate change is just too difficult.

But failure to be clear about what is needed is far worse.

Imagine if in 1939 Britain got wind that Hitler was far stronger than we'd thought.

We'd thought we needed the air-force, army and navy to be twice as big, but the latest intelligence shows we need to make them three times as big. And that we had no idea how to do three times bigger; twice as big was hard enough.

And then imagine Churchill's advisors saying "yes chaps, the threat's far greater, but best not up our game eh, we don't know how to do that".

The government's new climate strategy is due out any day. It needs to set out that the UK will do its part in meeting the Paris Climate Agreement's 1.5 degree target, and set out the 'how', as best it can. If we don't have every element of it quite right, we will learn by doing.

But as important as the content is how the government communicates this strategy. It needs to be clear with the British people that climate change is an emergency, and that it will lead the way, as Governments in times of emergency must do. The climate change strategy shouldn't be published apologetically by the Energy Secretary, it should be led by the Prime Minister, and be front-page news. Here's how she could do it:

Prime Minister May approaches lectern, looks up to meet the eyes of the gathered media, and - with her entire cabinet behind her - begins:

"The shock events of the last month - the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma, the horror floods in Asia - show what we all in our hearts know: our climate is changing, too fast. And we are not immune here in Britain, as we see more flooding in our own cities and towns. 

I lead a government that listens to experts, and is guided by peer-reviewed science, and they are clear that these extreme events will get far worse if we do not act.

Humanity is a small ship, sailing into a dark storm, and the first squalls are starting to buffet us.

But, we have the ingenuity, technology and ability to steer our ship clear. Today, I stand here with all of my cabinet to say that we also have the will and determination to do so.

Today I am launching the UK's new climate change strategy. It sets out that we must up our game. It sets out how we will become a zero-carbon economy, as fast as possible, and within a generation. Cutting the fossil fuel pollution which is driving climate change to zero.

This is a huge endeavour. Greater than the Apollo moon launch. Greater even than reconstruction after the Second World War. It will require the efforts of every sector of society - from businesses, the financial community and local authorities, to the public, unions and every department of government.

But it is overwhelmingly a good news agenda. It will deliver thousands of new businesses and jobs in clean technology. It will cut waste. It will mean warmer homes, and lower energy costs. Cleaner air and a greener countryside. This is a vision of hope for a better world everyone can get behind.

The Conservative Party is proud of its record in cutting pollution in recent years - in particular delivering cleaner electricity. This month's record low-cost offshore wind auctions are a huge success, and a testament to our support for new technologies. But we also acknowledge the desire and commitment of other political parties to fix climate change - the UK's world-leading Climate Change Act was a rare, unanimous cross-party achievement of which all parties should be rightly proud. Left or right, we're all affected by climate change, and we must work together, across political divides.

But we need to redouble our efforts. We must do so. Climate change impacts - from floods to storms to drought - get worse with every passing year. But we redouble our efforts with justified hope. From the amazing technological advances and falls in costs for renewable power, to the growth in businesses - from turbine factories in Hull to electric taxi factories in Coventry, we can rightly believe we can deliver a clean, zero-carbon world, in time. We can steer humanity's ship clear of the climate change storm, while simultaneously boosting our economy and improving the lives and health of our citizens.

It is the greatest challenge of our time. But Britain will lead the way in ensuring that humanity meets that challenge, and fights through stronger. This strategy sets out how we will do it".

Content, ambition and leadership - that's what we need from our prime-minister and new climate change strategy this month.

Craig Bennett is CEO of Friends of the Earth


​​​​​'[W]e have a battle on our hands: a battle to preserve a safe climate for the future. Powerful forces are engaged in this battle, whether we notice them or not. The power of vested interests to resist change, the inertia of infrastructure systems, and the unyielding laws of thermodynamics all seem to be arrayed against us.

To win this battle, we must deploy equally powerful forces in favour of change ... We must match the laws of physics with a will and a determination that is equally unyielding.'
​​ ​

Sir David King, UK Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change, Climate Change: A Risk Assessment​, June 2015