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Transcript of Prime Minister's speech to MEF


Major Economies Forum - Lancaster House, London

Monday 19 October 2009

Remarks by Prime Minister Gordon Brown  

Let me first of all welcome you to London. Let me pay tribute to your work in leading the climate change debate in your own countries and in driving that debate forward internationally. And let me say at the outset just how important I believe your discussions here are now.


In every era there are only one or two moments when nations come together and reach agreements that make history - because they change the course of history.


Copenhagen must be such a time.


There are now fewer than fifty days to set the course of the next fifty years and more.


So, as we convene here, we carry great responsibilities, and the world is watching.


If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement, in some future period, can undo that choice. By then it will be irretrievably too late.


So we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.  


Only last week we saw new evidence of the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice. And in just 25 years the glaciers in the Himalayas which provide water for three-quarters of a billion people could disappear entirely.


IPCC estimates tell us now that by 2080 an extra 1.8 billion people, equal to over a quarter of the world's current population, could be living – and dying - without enough water.


If the international community does nothing to assist the rainforest nations in protecting the world's rainforests, the damage, not just to the climate but to biodiversity, to watersheds and to the livelihoods of millions of people will be incalculable.  


And the recent report of the Global Humanitarian Forum led by Kofi Annan suggests:


  • that 325 million people are already seriously affected by drought, disease, floods, loss of livestock and agricultural yields and decline of fish stocks;
  • a further 500 million people are at extreme risk;
  • and every year the effects of climate change are already killing 300 thousand people - the numbers killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami – and the toll could rise to half a million each year by 2030.

98% of those dying and otherwise seriously affected live in the poorest countries; and yet their countries account for only 8% of global emissions.

This is the great injustice of climate change: those being hit first and hardest by climate change are those who have done the least to cause it.

On Saturday President Nasheed of Maldives, whose concerns I share, held a cabinet meeting under water to highlight the calamity that may engulf his islands. In the South Pacific nation of Kiribati, President Tong has requested international aid to evacuate his people before their land quite literally disappears.

But the threat is not confined to the developing world. The extraordinary summer heat wave of 2003 in Europe resulted in over 35 thousand extra deaths. On current trends, such an event could become quite routine in Britain in just a few decades' time. And within the lifetime of our children and grandchildren the intense temperatures of 2003 could become the average temperature experienced throughout much of Europe. In Britain we face the prospect of more frequent droughts and a rising wave of floods.

And the threat is not only humanitarian and ecological, it is also an economic one. Three years ago, the Stern Report, which I commissioned, concluded that failure to avoid the worst effects of climate change could lead to global GDP being up to 20 per cent lower than it otherwise would be - an economic cost greater than the losses caused by two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Let us be in no doubt then that this is a profound moment for our world – a time of momentous choice.

Down one path is a business as usual future of high carbon and low co-operation. And yes, down this path, we could see economic growth for a while, powered by traditional energy sources. But such growth would be unsustainable; and soon overwhelmed by its inevitable consequences:


  • greater energy insecurity,
  • greater pollution and ill-health
  • and - as a result of climate-induced migration and poverty in the poorest countries - almost inevitably, greater conflict.

The other path leads to a low-carbon, high-co-operation future. A future too of economic growth – but growth powered by new energy sources and energy efficiency, and bringing with it huge economic opportunities for developed and developing countries alike: new jobs and businesses, new technologies and exports.

This will not stop climate change. Already some change is inescapable. But we can slow climate change to a rate to which we have a chance to adapt.  

And low carbon means high co-operation –


  • co-operation over technology development and assistance;
  • co-operation in providing finance for adaptation;
  • and cooperation in a global carbon market which fosters efficient emissions reduction and creates investment flows to developing countries.    

Taking this path will not be easy, for any of us. It involves changing long-held assumptions about the nature of the economic development we will pursue, about the kind of energy we will use; and how our societies and economies will be organised. We will all face formidable political constraints and challenges; and the first step – one we must take here in this forum - is to acknowledge all this – and resolve that the barriers shall be overcome.  

But the signs of momentum, of forward movement, are now unmistakeable. It was at the Bali Conference two years ago that the international community agreed to secure the new agreement in Copenhagen this year. And at the G20 in April, at the Major Economies Forum in July, and at the Secretary General's summit at the UN last month, world leaders reaffirmed their determination to meet this timetable.

In just the last few weeks new commitments and announcements have spurred new progress - including the target announced by the new government of Prime Minister Hatoyama in Japan to cut emissions by 25% on 1990 levels by 2020; President Hu's speech to the United Nations; and President Yudhoyono’s announcement that Indonesia would seek to reduce emissions by 26% on business as usual by 2020. I welcome these developments, which build on commitments already announced by many countries represented at this meeting and beyond it. And I believe that in many other nations too momentum is building towards further announcements before Copenhagen.

So I believe agreement at Copenhagen is possible. But we must frankly face the plain fact that our negotiators are not getting to agreement quickly enough. Before Copenhagen, there is just one more negotiating week: in Barcelona.

So I believe that leaders must engage directly to break the impasse.

We cannot compromise with the earth;

We can not compromise with the catastrophe of unchecked climate change; so we must compromise with one another.  

I urge my fellow leaders to work together to reach agreement amongst us, recognising both our common and our differentiated responsibilities - and the dire consequences of failure.


We urgently need convergence on the principal issues for any agreement:


  • binding economy-wide caps in the mid-term for developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions for developing ones;
  • finance, including for adaptation, forestry, technology and capacity building
  • technology co-operation, including specific action plans in areas such as solar power and carbon capture and storage;
  • and national communications and monitoring, reporting and verification


In particular we must make progress on finance.


That requires developed countries to come forward with finance offers, and developing countries to come forward with the plans and actions that such finance would support. Practical commitments which both must make and keep.


As you know I have put forward a package of proposals for how such climate finance could be organised, with a working figure of $100bn per year in predictable public and private funding by 2020. Let us match what developed countries can raise with what developing countries can do to combat climate change.


I believe that we can do this. And I also believe that such an agreement not only must but can put the world on a trajectory to a maximum average global temperature increase of 2 degrees.


Lord Stern has shown that with annual global emissions currently at 50 gigatonnes, a 2 degree deal requires emissions to fall to around 20 gigatonnes by 2050. To get there he suggests we will need to reach 44 gigatonnes by 2020 and 35 by 2030.  


Already countries are undertaking actions or have put forward offers which would reduce emissions to 48-49 gigatonnes in 2020. So we are looking for a further 4-5 gigatonnes. And I am convinced we can achieve this, through a combination of efforts in developed countries, in developing countries and in global reduction in aviation and maritime emissions.  


So over the remaining seven weeks to Copenhagen, and in the two weeks of the conference itself, I will work tirelessly with my fellow leaders to negotiate a deal. I have said I will go to Copenhagen to conclude it - and I am encouraging them to make the same commitment.  


I ask you, as our representatives, to devote this meeting not to parsing disagreements, but to pursuing the common interests and global imperatives that are the only path to agreement – and the only sure way to make the world safe for human survival.


For this is a test of our ability to work together as nations facing common challenges in the new global era. We have shown this year in our approach to the global economic crisis how co-operation from all can benefit each. Now we must apply the same resolve and urgency to the climate crisis also facing us.


We cannot afford to fail. If we act now; if we act together; if we act with vision and resolve, success at Copenhagen is still within our reach. But if we falter, the earth itself will be at risk. And for the planet there is no Plan B.  In the words of a former President: If not us, who? If not now, when? If not together, how?


So this is the moment. Now is the time. And we must be the people who act.




Related links

Download the Chair's summary, PDF 87.50KB

Chair's Summary: Fifth Meeting of the Leaders' Representatives of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, U.S department of state 20 October 2009

See you in Copenhagen?

The UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown answers questions from the audience at the Road to Copenhagen launch event (Crown Copyright)

UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was the first world leader to offer to go to Copenhagen – and urged other leaders to do the same.


Impacts of global temperature rise

4 degree map (Crown Copyright)

The impacts of climate change will be widespread across the globe. The interactive map highlights the impacts of a global temperature rise of 4 ºC (7 ºF).


Super September Milestones

US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the MEF in Italy July 2009, which historically recognised the importance of capping global temperature rises by 2 degrees (Saul Loeb /AFP/Getty Images)

The Major Economies Forum – leaders from the world's largest emitters – met on September 17-18 in Washington.


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