Act on CO2

Tell us what you think…

December 17th, 2007

Monday 12:00, London: Now that the Bali conference has ended, and the jet lag is beginning to set in, we are starting to think about the future of this diary. It seems as though quite a lot of people have been reading it, not least a number of the foreign dignitaries and other notables our Ministers met in Bali.

As the Minister put in his last post, he would be very keen to hear from some of you (his readers) about what you think about the diary, so, assuming you can find a couple of minutes out of your hectic festive schedules to drop a line, or two, to, we would really like to hear from you. Thanks a lot.

Private Office of Phil Woolas

The road map

December 15th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Saturday, 4pm, London: Am back in Britain after 20 hour flight via Osaka of all places. It was one of the most frustrating 20 hours of my life. I left Bali at midnight last night their time with the talks still going on and Hilary still shuttling in and out of the Minister’s negotiating huddle. With my job done and my ticket booked I had to leave without knowing the outcome. Anyway, I’ve talked to one of our negotiating team and she has filled me in with what is good news indeed.

The headlines are about the US U-turn but what really counts is that there is a “road-map”. My own view is that these talks were, without being too melodramatic, a turning point for the world and especially the United Nations. The week started with UN workers being killed by a terrorist bomb in Algeria and ended with a UN agreement involving all the countries of the world.

Phil Woolas with the Canadian Youth DelegationClimate change is by its very nature international. Ultimately it doesn’t matter who caused it or who is causing it, we all suffer from it. Diplomatically it is the ultimate Mutually Assured Destruction. One of the EU negotiators likened the arguments for industrialised countries not taking action to trying to stop your neighbour being alcoholic by getting drunk!

Unlike trade or even arms, it’s very difficult to pin down what it is we are bargaining over. If all the countries of the world said they didn’t care and they weren’t prepared to reduce their carbon footprint, what would we do? We would have to build our flood defences, change our building regulations, etc. at the cost of billions of pounds, far more expensive that changing our energy production methods. In truth the negotiations barter separate but related issues. Trees and clean coal, biofuels and solar, etc depending on the starting point of each country, their economic track and their geography. At the heart of it of course is money but also the world is having to learn that there is a new currency, carbon. Ultimately this fact will change the balance of power in the world.

We now have two years to reach agreement. We have the ambition, rooted in the science, we have the commitments for the industrialised developed and developing countries and we have forestry, technology transfer and finance frameworks to fill in. Can it work? I hope so.

For me, I’ve always being involved in negotiations and bartering ( I worked for a trade union for 7 years and have been involved in the black arts of politics for 25 years!). But I’ve never been involved in anything so complicated. I am exhausted - and it is Hilary Benn who has been working through the night! When we got back to Heathrow the Conference in Bali had finished and I felt like you do at the end of a school term. I’d watched David Attenborough’s Living Planet on the plane and I just can’t help but think we had all better get real.

Let me know if you enjoyed this diary and if you want, I’ll keep it going through to 2009. I’ll put an e-mail address up on Monday. If I don’t get any feedback, you’ll have to wait for the memoirs!

P.S. Photo is of me with the Canadian Youth Delegation explaining how the talks were going. They asked me some of the trickiest questions of the entire conference!

Will we get a deal?

December 14th, 2007

Phil Woolas, 16.45 (8.45am UK time). Wow. Just hosted a meeting with China on where we go from here. Hilary is deep in the negotiations. The stakes couldn’t be higher. I’d met the Chinese Minister twice before so there was a mutual rapport. Also, although I’m not allowed to name them, I was backed up by ‘James’ and ‘Harold’ who have 40 years experience between them. We just don’t appreciate how good our civil servants are.

Before that we’d met with colleagues from Nigeria, who are a key player in the Africa group. For them climate change is all too real and the scale of the problems they deal with make our tribulations seem minor. At least I could look my counterpart in the eye as they recognised the UK contribution.

There is an incredible atmosphere here now. People are starting to leave and I am just packing my suitcase to catch the midnight flight. We may have to leave Hilary with his small team if the talks go through the night. But in the meantime, all of us are speculating, debating and analysing the possible outcomes.

You will probably read the result before I do as I could be on the plane. Will we get a deal? Probably, but now we have to look ahead to the next round.

Over lunch, the UK hosted a meeting with the World Bank and a dozen other countries to discuss ways of backing up the Bali roadmap with real money. The Environmental Transformation Fund means the UK is in a good place to discuss this.

I feel incredibly proud to have a role here, terribly scared of failure, and utterly humbled by some of the people I’ve met. What I am sure of, having seen us in action here, is that the United Kingdom can be proud.

Nearing the endgame

December 14th, 2007

Phil Woolas with French Environment Secretary, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet

Phil Woolas, 8.30am (12.30 am UK time). Serious business yesterday evening which went on to the early hours. I managed to get some sleep but Hilary Benn has been up all night. The constituency casework doesn’t go away either. It’s so odd to be on the phone to their office at 1am in the morning.

I spoke last night with the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, after his chilling and precise presentation including his fears for the loss of snow and ice frm the Himalaya which will cause drought and flooding in sub-Asia. We talked about the sad but inevitable allegations of politicisation of the IPCC by the media and political parties (especially in election time) in the coming years and how we can maintain their integrity.

Anyway, when I woke up, Al Gore was on the TV calling on the US to sign up. I’d tried to get in to hear him but got crushed in the press pack.

Overall it is now very tense indeed. It is truly amazing that people and delegations remain cordial under such intense pressure. We had a UK delegation ‘huddle’ first thing this morning where Hilary bought us up to date and we discussed tactics. Nearing the end game. The form of the goal is to get a wording that is consensual while remaining meaningful and ambitious.

Hilary is going back ot the talks now. I’m off to have more bilaterals and then hosting a lunch about the Environmental Transformation Fund. This is the GBP 800m that Gordon Brown announced last year to help developing countries access clean energy and adapt to climate change and supporting reduced emissions from deforestation etc.

A call to action

December 13th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Thursday, 3pm (7am UK time). This conf is really humming now. Hilary is right at the centre of things along with his colleagues from across the world including South Africa, Portugal (Presidency of the EU), China, Brazil, India and of course the USA.

By the end of the week we need every country signed up to an agreement. There are a dozen or so whose support will determine the fate of the conference and along with it our chances of avoiding the most dangerous climate change.

Hilary and I are meeting with colleagues from other countries throughout the day, discussing issues and what text we can all sign up to. We started at 7am and went through to the early hours last night and kicked off again at 7. I have to tread very carefully at the these crunch stages as the position can change literally minute by minute.

Sometimes the position changes whilst we are in the meetings. Its much easier if I’ve met the Minister before so Connie from Denmark for example I’ve know for 25 years and others I’ve got to know over the last 6 months.

Hilary of course is very well-known and probably has the best contacts of anyone here. I’ve told him last night that the conference divides in two: those who think of him as Tony’s son and those who think of Tony as Hilary’s Dad!

Hilary gave his statement to the conference yesterday. He had about three minutes to state the Government’s formal position to the assembled meeting. It was a call to action, saying we can’t carry on saying “after you” to each other, and have to take action together. That is part of the logic behind the Climate Change Bill in the UK. To show everyone we’re serious.

One of my highlights of yesterday was speaking at the International Trade Unions Confederations. I argued that a sustainable economy meant not just one combining environmental protection and economic growth but one that also ensured employment for all.

Overall though, the big picture here is how do we reconcile the varying views of the developed countries while maintaining the support of the developing world. It is not easy, far from certain, and my stomach is tightening.

High level segment gets underway

December 12th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Wednesday 12.30 pm. Our officials are heavily involved in the details of the negotiations and were working through most the night.

Went to a Met Office side event yesterday evening with a very professional but terrifying presentation on temperature rises. They gave me a copy of their powerpoint presentation which I can adapt to use myself.

Good news on deforestation but, I thought, a response from Friends of the Earth which totally misses the point. They said “this scheme is a form of eco-imperialism foisted on the developing world”.

It’s absurd to argue against hard money going to developing countries to reward rainforests for the global environmental good they provide. Greenpeace see this and said “it would be unthinkable for the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol not to address tropical deforestation”.

I met with the Environment Minister for Guyana today. To claim that incentives are being ‘foisted’ on developing countries couldn’t be further from the truth. Their President recently proposed that to encourage the sustainable use of the Guyanan forests and to value the carbon benefits, they would offer the forests to the carbon market either through carbon trading or bilaterally. It’s an ambitious and innovative proposal and one which merits consideration by us and by others.

Hilary and I are meeting our EU counterparts for lunch today. We’ve been meeting with other counterparts from other countries throughout the morning while our officials are in the negotiations.

Opening the proceedings this morning were powerful speeches this morning from the President of Indonesia (widely know as SBY!), UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and of course Kevin Rudd who received a huge ovation for ratifying Kyoto.

Bali Conference in full flow

December 11th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Tuesday 16.14 pm (8.14am UK time). Just broken for a bit of lunch. The conference is in full flow now, and it really is a huge convention rather than a conference. To get an idea, imagine one of the big party conferences – security, media, pressure groups, big names arriving and departing, and huddles of people and laptops, and more mobile phones than Carphone Warehouse. On top of which it is over 90 degrees F and very sticky. My assistant is covered in mosquito bites. So far they’ve avoided me!

Phil Woolas giving press interviews, Bali, 11 December 2007Behind the scenes the atmosphere is very tense. Good movement on funding for adaptation, optimistic on deforestation, but still too early to tell on the big picture. Everyone is waiting for ‘the Ministers’ to start talking tomorrow.

One of the highlights of my morning was a press conference I held with a large group of journalists from developing countries. In probably one of the best acts of British diplomacy, DfID have funded forty journalists from the developing world, including much of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, to attend the talks and report back home.

Adaptation was a big theme today and I shared a stage with the Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders to discuss how we could support developing countries to prepare for climate change. Together with the World Bank, we announced we will be providing up to £3m towards helping developing countries understand the costs of adaptation and how to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Phil Woolas at adaptation event, Bali, 11 December 2007Forestry is the other big story of the day, and Hilary Benn announced that the UK will contribute £15 million to a World Bank initiative to reduce emissions from deforestation. Emissions from deforestation account for up to a fifth of global emissions and we need to ensure they are included any future climate framework. This money will help pilot schemes to try and achieve just that.

The Balinese are incredibly friendly, everybody smiles and is so helpful but it is very strange having policemen with me (almost) all the time. Probably the weirdest birthday I’ve had!

Fasten your seatbelts!

December 10th, 2007

Phil Woolas with Sir Nicholas Stern at Singapore AirportPhil Woolas, Monday 11.10am/7.10pm. Somewhere over the South China SeaOn the last leg of the the flight to Bali with Sir Nicholas Stern. The past few days have been very frustrating as the conference has been going on for six days and it’s only now that Hilary and I can take part.

Mind you, I’ve had a very busy week. Spoke to the LGA Climate Change Conference in Leicester, had the debate on the performance of Defra in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening and then our regular Defra questions on Thursday. I’ve also had meetings with my counterpart in Norway, the Minister of Environment and Development, Erik Solheim and a detailed meeting with Johan Eliasch on deforestation. Wednesday was mostly devoted to our upcoming Water Strategy which we are publishing in January. Spent Friday and Saturday in the constituency (thank goodness).

The big news for Bali has been the passing of the cap and trade bill in the US Senate Committee. Senator John Kerry has two powerful articles published in the International Herald Tribune and Boston Globe. He says a US cap and trade scheme is inevitable.

Phil Woolas speaking at the LGA Climate Change ConferenceFor me, terrible frustration as the television interviews we had lined up on Friday morning were dropped for some other breaking news. A real shame as I wanted to highlight the potential for success in Bali (and I was going to wear my colourful “batik” shirt, which was a present from the Indonesians!) on GMTV.

Never mind, the station that matters (BBC Manchester) gave a good round-up and I did a 4 minute interview on Friday’s drive-time show.

I’m writing this on the plane and it is already Monday evening. I’ve read all my briefing and feel well prepared but very nervous………..”fasten your seatbelts!”

Better late than never down under

December 3rd, 2007

Phil Woolas, London, Monday evening: So it’s started - the Bali Conference is officially underway. UK officials are already there working with their counterparts from over 180 countries to prepare the ground for when the Ministers arrive next week. Spoke to Hilary this morning about his visit to India last week, some encouraging signs but it underlined the fact that getting agreement in Bali won’t be easy.

Phil Woolas working in his officeHilary and I had a great meeting this morning with the environmental and development NGOs and BINGOs (there’s a new acronym for you - the Business and Industry NGOs - nothing to do with two little ducks!) to discuss what we want to achieve in Bali. Government, Business and NGOs are all working really closely together to try and get the international agreement we need. It’s a great thing to be a part of - and there’s not many areas of policy it happens in!

The newspapers are full of Bali today. I read in the Telegraph that my hotel is very lavish - that’s the first I’ve heard. I don’t think they realise that it’s rainy season in Bali this time of year. That’s why it’s happening there, now. There’s no tourists - and lots of spare hotel rooms. I also think it’s odd that there’s never any mention in the papers of how many journalists are going - many more British journos than UK Government officials!

The Australians ratified the Kyoto agreement this morning - technically they are signatories already having signed up in 1997 but they decided not to ratify at the time. Don’t forget these agreements have to get through the respective Parliaments as well as being agreed by the Governments. Bill Clinton for example signed up but the Senate wouldn’t ratify. This is one of the reasons why we need two years between the agreement (if we get one in Copenhagen in 2009) and the start date in 2012.

Last minute travel plans are being arranged - all Government air travel is off-set but thank goodness I’ve got the offfice to help me. If it were down to me I’d probably forget my passport!

Anticipation building…

November 30th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Friday 10.30am, back in Oldham. It’s getting really exciting now. Hilary Benn is in India for the final round of pre Bali lobbying. Tremendous boost today from Prince Charles. His Corporate Leader’s Group have come out strongly in favour of taking action now to tackle climate change. This group includes some of the world’s biggest companies - e.g. Tesco, Nike, Nokia. Also heard Roger Harrabin on the Today programme this morning setting the scene for Bali. He made the point that the meeting is the annual UN Conference on Climate Change. That’s right. Bali is not just a one-off but part of a process.

Hectic day yesterday. Started early with a business breakfast in the city - investors looking for certainty and wanting to know which technologies to back. Then down to Westminster to meet with the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. Lots of people there keen to find out what we think we can achieve in Bali. Colin Challen MP very effectively chairs the group. He promotes the policy of Contraction and Convergence to reduce emissions.

Also had a great meeting with Toyota Europe. They are the world leader in hybrid cars and their plans for powering cars in the future are mind blowing. It gives me real confidence that we will see the step change in vehicle technology we need. My own Government car is a Toyota Prius, which I’m getting used to.

As I’m writing this (10.43am) Greenpeace are on the television - apparently they’ve sent us a memo ahead of Bali. This is so fast moving it’s difficult to keep up with!

Our team arrive in Bali on Monday to start the preparations…

Meeting the President of Guyana

November 27th, 2007

Phil Woolas with the Mayor of HeddonPhil Woolas, London, Tuesday 5pm - Things are moving apace. Commonwealth Parliamentarians meeting in House of Commons - I gave a little speech but the star billing was the President of Guyana, on his way back from Uganda via Heathrow. He wants a carbon market for deforestation and has radically offered international stewardship of his country’s forests (which are bigger than the whole of England). He made a plea for carbon markets and said he was wary of aid based schemes.

Sorry there’s no entry for yesterday but I spent it in Hull and the East Riding learning about what caused the floods or rather what, if anything, could have been done better. I met a lady called Joyce who is still living in a caravan on her drive - she hopes to be in her home for Christmas. Its out of the news now but the human impact remains.

A briefing on Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting decisions this afternoon followed by a preparatory meeting for Bali - more than 45 agenda items will need agreement, goodness it’s complicated. Hilary spoke to the CBI this morning. Their report on Climate Change is welcome and important and shows that tackling climate change is good for business - the Times put it on p.46!

I’m off to the MPs’ Warm Homes meeting tonight and missing Man United on TV - that’s commitment.

Debating the issues

November 22nd, 2007

Phil Woolas, London, Thursday afternoon - England are all over today’s papers!

Just had a debate in the Commons on Climate Change - one of the first of these new topical debates each week. Really good debate with all Members recognising the UK’s leadership but inevitably calls for us to do more. You can read the speeches in tomorrow’s Hansard and judge for yourself. For me, the consensus among back-bench MPs around smart metering and feed-in tariffs was important. Above all else though were Michael Jack’s remarks. He is the Chair of the Select Committee and a Conservative MP. He made a strong speech calling on the USA to show leadership and I will email his remarks to our Embassy in Washington so they can show the political consensus in Britain. A good example of how we attack each other here but stick together overseas.

Colin Challen MP, chair of the All Party Climate Change Group said he was off to Bali and that next week we have the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Climate Change Conference is here in London. Colin is a key opinion former.

All eyes now on Oz - have read in the paper today that Kevin Rudd has said he will ratify Kyoto and go to Bali if he wins on Saturday.

Got a long session with the Environment Agency now - we all want a 25 year plan for investment in flood protection and the environment. Who says we are all short term - I’ll be spending my days fishing in the rivers by then - I hope.

Getting carbon capture up and running

November 21st, 2007

Phil Woolas, London, Wednesday, 7pm: The East Asian Pacific Countries have signed a new climate change and forestry deal ahead of Bali. This is welcome as it builds the momentum but we wait the Australian election result this weekend. Lots of lobbying going on at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting  starting tomorrow in Uganda but the headlines will be about Pakistan.

Made my speech at the Forestry Commission this lunchtime with a strong message that Forests will be in the Bali talks and secondly that they had to be. Peter Snow was the chair and did a great job getting the discussions going (I used to work for him at Newsnight and so felt a bit like a trainee again). Its brilliant how forests have come to the top of the agenda. Earlier I met with my colleague Malcolm Wicks MP, Energy Minister and the Carbon Capture Association - we have just launched our  competition  to get the first Coal powered CCS power station so along with Norway and the USA we are ahead of the game. We HAVE to get this technology up and running - they are building a new coal fired power station every four days in China and they will have to have CCS technology. This is where we do agree with the Americans and the joint UK-China clean coal initiative launched on Tuesday is an important step.

Just a straw in the wind - I’ve been signing reply letters to MPs since the early hours (the box is not red, it’s a great big brown briefcase) - more on climate change than anything else, over a hundred have written in.

Come on England.

From Australia to Bridlington, via Mexico

November 20th, 2007

Phil Woolas with East Yorkshire MPsPhil Woolas, Tuesday - 6pm. 12 days to Bali. Mixed coverage of Gordon’s speech - good internationally and not so good here. (Nothing new there then). I’ve spent most of the day on the water strategy which we’ll publish in the new year. Basically we are using too much and we are going to have to change in a big way.

From water shortages to floods, as the Mexican Finance Minister came in. They’ve just had devastating floods on a scale we can’t imagine. Not surprisingly he thinks Bali is crucial. The Mexicans broadly agree with our position and are doing their own “Stern” type report - another example of UK leadership methinks. He wanted details of the finance mechanisms and what may or may not come out of Bali. A key question is - how to get the financial incentives in place to stop deforestation (I’ve got a speech on this tomorrow at the Forestry Commission).

From Bali to Beverley and Bridlington as East Yorkshire’s MPs brought a delegation to talk about the impact of coastal erosion. Their houses and roads are falling into the sea and it’s awful. I know the area well as we used to go to Brid every year for holidays - apparently our caravan site is going to disappear. I think we should be able to help them but even Government can’t hold back the sea!

Did an interview with Australian Radio - their equivalent of Today is covering Climate Change tomorrow. It’s a big issue in their election this weekend and they were trying to get me to say that we wanted Australia to sign up to Kyoto. I told them it wasn’t my place as a Pom Politician to interfere in their election but the answer was “Yes”. I might be famous or infamous in Australia for 15 minutes in the morning. Off to the House to catch up with casework and then going to the new press bar opening (no - it’s not subsidised you cynics).

The PM and the IPCC

November 19th, 2007

So - the Boss has made his speech and it seems to have gone down well. We’re very pleased in Defra that the issue is getting such support and the timing is great just after the IPCC. Our scientists in Valencia played a crucial role and we should be very grateful. I was late for the PM’s speech because I had a meeting with my German counterpart. They are one of our strongest allies and we had a good discussion about tactics in Bali which I obviously can’t tell you about!

My weekend, however, was interrupted by the Guardian who got hold of a internal document which - shock, horror, probe - shows that Defra is trying to balance our budgets!! I know its too much to ask that correspondents should read the Budget Books but if they did they would find that overall we have had an above inflation settlement from the Treasury, which is a bit different to a cut. Anyway it all made for a great story but it meant getting up for lots of interviews to comment on the IPCC (welcome) and the Guardian splash (not welcome). I did the last interview outside Boundary Park and missed Port Vale’s equaliser!

Tomorrow the Mexican Finance Minister is here. Mexico are absolutely crucial to Bali and having suffered terrible flooding recently really understand the threat of climate change. It will be a fascinating meeting because Mexico are, along with Brazil, India, South Africa and China, the leading developing countries.

Back in House of Commons - Job Done

November 16th, 2007

Phil Woolas, London, Friday 9.00am. Back in House of Commons - Job Done. The Mid Western Governors have signed up for a Carbon Trading Scheme and a climate change mitigation strategy. This will really help reassure the developing countries at Bali and will mean the US is taking the leadership mantle that the world is looking for. (Getting on for half of all states are now signed up).This is the most significant step forward for the forces of goodness and light since the Peace Prize. Of course it’s not reported in the newspapers, despite the huge implication for financial markets, let alone the climate change benefits.

By coincidence I bumped into John Prescott as I arrived at the House - he got it immediately and was thrilled.

Next stop is the IPCC final report from Valencia this Saturday - we will issue our statement straight away, along the lines of “The World Must Act” - all building pressure for Bali. Two weeks to go.

Off to the Constituency now to try and settle a big row about Latics (Oldham FC).


Up The Hill - Washington DC

November 14th, 2007

Phil Woolas at the Capitol, Washington DCPhil Woolas, Washington DC: It looks to me as though the United States is at the tipping point. Spent the morning with Jim Connaughton who, as President Bush’s Environment Supremo is one of the most powerful players in the Bali process - he has the power to make it or break it. Then up to ‘the Hill’ to discuss strategy with the Congressmen and Senators who are working on their own legislation. Their message was clear - there will be a US cap and trade system sooner or later. Senator John Kerry will be leading a Congressional delegation to the Bali meeting and he’s made it clear that he will be setting out the US Government’s ‘other’ position there if necessary.

Phil Woolas with climate change protestors, Washington DCOn the way to the airport to fly to Milwaukee we were stopped in the street by members of the League of Conservation Voters. A non-partisan group they lobby for a pro-environment US Congress — actively campaigning for pro- and against anti-environment congressional candidates. Apparently with considerable success! More info is at

This afternoon I feel like Daniel in the Lion’s Den - tomorrow I’m due to speak to some of the State Governors of the Mid-West. Where they make the cars and dig up the coal. If I can persuade them to come on board then Bali has a great chance.

Off to Washington

November 13th, 2007

Phil Woolas about to board a plane to the USPhil Woolas, London: Tuesday afternoon - off to America to try to persuade the Governors that they are missing the boat on cap and trade. Everyone knows that there’s going to be a carbon market so its a case of trying to get the USA in the right place. Everyone also knows that whoever wins the US Presidency, their policy will change. What’s amazing is that not one UK paper has reported Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech last Tuesday - in years to come it will be seen as a turning point and I bet they are reading it in Saudi Arabia. Three weeks to Bali and counting…

Bali - the big task

November 13th, 2007

Phil Woolas - London: Phil Woolas - Minister of State (Environment)We’ve got a big task ahead of us at the UNFCC meeting in Bali in December. We need to get governments from all over the world, with a huge array of different priorities, to sign up to the idea that we need a new climate deal in 2009. I want to use this to talk about the things that might not be reported in the news or written up in formal reports - because a lot goes on that doesn’t make the papers. I’ll be writing about my impressions of what I’ve seen, the meetings I’ve been in, things I’ve heard about, between now and when the Bali talks end in December.


Page last modified: 14 November 2008

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