Copenhagen is not just about getting a deal on climate change. All but those blind to the evidence of the science understand the imperative for a deal. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the negotiations and is leading the way with our domestic policy.
Our new Department of Energy and Climate Change is one clear signal of our intention; another is the Prime Minister’s commitment to getting developed countries to contribute around $100bn per year by 2020 so that developing countries can make the transformation to resilient low-carbon economies.
But the wider question is about the need to construct a global economy that will last. The answer to the economic and environmental sustainability of the planet lies in how we run our businesses, how we run our communities, how we run our personal lives. With the global population projected to reach nine billion by 2020 we need a fundamentally new approach to our production and consumption. This is about use of food, water, energy and other natural resources. Business can lead the way with innovation, technology and new opportunities for growth.
The low-carbon and wider sustainability agenda is not about denial or punitive measures – it is about finding a way to continue economic growth without damaging our longer term opportunities and prospects. For example, we have already seen huge developments in the treatment of waste in many countries. The design of products has shifted in such a way that economic growth can be achieved without detriment to the environment. But there is a long way to go and this continued transformation costs money. Governments need to examine where this money will come from: should it, for example, be from passing costs to consumers or through tax? But the transformation will provide jobs, will raise standards of living globally and should lead to a planet in balance whose resources fuel the continued advance of our societies.
Copenhagen will be a difficult negotiation as it requires a leap of faith for some countries. And the details are complex, especially at a time of economic downturn. We need to establish the role each country should play in reducing its carbon emissions, how to finance the technologies required, how to solve the issues around deforestation and how to help developing countries adapt to the changes in climate which will happen anyway.
If successful, Copenhagen will unleash a wave of optimism that “clean growth” is not only possible but a powerful driver and vision for all countries to pursue. The role of the environment departments and governments of the world is to demonstrate that this can be done and to set a framework for business, our economies and our population to deliver the changes necessary.
Mike Anderson is Director General, Strategy, Evidence and Finance at the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).