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Speech by Right Honourable Hilary Benn, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - 13 December 2007

Mr President. 

For some of us, this is our first COP meeting. For a lot of you here, you’ve been to many COP meetings. But one thing is different this time. And it is this. We can’t claim any more that we did not know what was going on.  We can all see the science. We all know our climate is already changing.

We cannot pretend that we did not realise that dangerous climate change is a political, a security, an economic, and a migration problem as well as an environmental one.

There are 6 billion of us now on this small and fragile planet. There will be 9 billion of us in less than 50 years time. What are we going to do when people start fighting, not about politics, but about water?   What will we do when people start arriving on our shores fleeing not political persecution but environmental catastrophe?  What will we do when the countries to whom we sell goods can’t buy them any more because they are having to deal with rising sea levels or crop failure?

The truth is that wherever we live, however poor or well-off we are, we will all be affected. Climate change is the ultimate expression of our interdependence as human beings.

And we cannot say that we could not do anything because someone else was not prepared to do so first. ‘After you’ will destroy all of us. We have to take this big step forward together.

So what do we need to do? We need 5 things.

First, we need a goal. What temperature increase can we live with and what must we avoid? Our view is not more than 2 degrees Celsius and that means at least a 50% reduction in global emissions from 1990 levels.

Second, we need bigger and ambitious commitments from developed countries: such as the cuts of 25-40% by 2020 referred to in the IPCC Report. And that is why a few weeks ago the UK Government introduced into Parliament a unique bill committing us to make, by law, cuts of these levels and more by 2050.

Third, we need a global carbon market. Putting a price on what is bad will push all of us to invest in what is good. But we must open up these markets to all countries. So today we announced the Africa Springboard initiative for the Clean Development  Mechanism, working with UK-based investment banks to boost CDM investment in sub-Saharan Africa.
Fourth, our deal needs to be fair. We have to save the planet and lift every citizen out of poverty in this same century. We will need measurable contributions from developing countries. But we must show that as developed countries that we are willing to provide support on technology, avoiding deforestation and adaptation. And that’s exactly what the UK’s $1.6 billion Environmental Transformation Fund will do.

Fifth, we need an agreement that covers all countries and all emissions and does enough to solve the problem.

This is our task. There isn’t a person in this hall who does not know it. We can make history, but it’s our choice. And when the story of this meeting comes to be written, it will either be seen as the moment when we accepted the responsibility that we each share and did something, or as the moment when we failed to act.

And that is why we have to show political will. In some of our countries, people doubt the capacity of politics to change things.  I don’t. It remains the best and only hope we have for the future of humankind. And here, this week, we have a chance to demonstrate our capacity to rise above individual interest and to embrace our common interest.

It’s really that simple. And that urgent. So let’s get on with it.

Page last modified: 12 December 2007
Page published: 12 December 2007

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs