Long and winding road: Sir David King talks COP21 and the future

Former Chief Scientific Advisor and current FCO Climate Change envoy Sir David King spoke recently at a parliamentary event on the post-COP implications for UK energy policy.  Sir David, the Government’s big cheese on climate change, has an obvious reason to spin these things favourably, but his views were nonetheless instructive given how he sought to demonstrate the challenges still ahead all the while noting the forward thinking position of the British Government.  The event – a joint APPG Climate Change and Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group meeting – was attended by a smattering of MPs and a large number of environmental lobbyists who took a more sceptical view of progress to date.

Green MP Caroline Lucas opened the debate by calling the energy bill out for going in the wrong direction and saying that the National Infrastructure Commission should have climate as its core focus.  She also called for the Carbon Plan the Government must publish by end of 2016 to ensure a plan for fossil disengagement.

Sir David King said Paris had been a success and gave it 9.5/10 (he admitted his expectations may have been low) because of the primary decision to keep global temperatures to below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 if possible.  He conceded that the national determined contributions don’t get us near the requirements for this aim at the moment, but said that with wind and solar costs coming down as a result of feed-in tariffs, this was possible and they were often cheaper than fossil fuels.  He said we need to aim for a 2035 net zero carbon emissions scenario as 2050 is too late.

Separate to the Paris agreement, there were a number of other accords that were helping deliver action on climate change.  The UK, US and Norway amongst others agreed the New York Forest Declaration to fund reforestation to offset carbon emissions.  The Energy Africa programme would give 600m off-grid Africans solar power by 2030.  Mission Innovate is spending $20bn a year to bring to market new technologies that will help achieve global emissions reduction aims. 

Sir David further noted that the UK had done more than any other country to support international climate policy.  There were 20 officials in the embassy in Beijing helping the Chinese put in place a carbon pricing plan, and the Mexicans had introduced a Climate Change Act the drafting of which was aided by British officials. This is significant because many domestically in the UK – and in the room at the event – believe the UK’s role internationally on climate change is being undermined by the current Government.

He also foresaw the expansion of carbon pricing in due course and talked about the EU and Chinese carbon pricing structures coming together.  He added that Mark Carney had warned against fossil investment without abatement so there is now even an investment disincentive to fossil fuels.  The event ended with a Q&A where the assembled lobbyists made individual claims that the Government was undermining their particular sector.  Sir David put up a brave defence, though there was not a meeting of minds in the end, with continued complaints about the cuts to renewable subsidies whilst Sir David spoke of wider international efforts sponsored by the UK.  It would appear Sir David will need to do a fair few more of these events if he’s to win them over.

Michael Stott

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search