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About this blog

This blog is my attempt to help bridge the gap - the growing and potentially dangerous gap - between politicians and the public. It will show what I'm doing, what I'm thinking about, and what I've read, heard or seen for myself which has sparked interest or influenced my ideas. My focus will be on my ministerial priorities. This supplements the existing ways of doing day-to-day business with me and my department. Read more about this blog...

Aussie Rules

It was a surprise to me that Australia has one of if not the highest emissions per person. But the aussies are striking back. I met Peter Beattie, four time premier of queensland to discuss cooperation on climate change, this week. There is real determination to make carbon storage work, and widespread commitment to environmental improvement. Premier Beattie also signed agreements with the Met Office and Hadley Centre to further international cooperation.

posted by David Miliband on 30 Mar 07 with 0 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Indian Oscars

Yorkshire Regional Development Agency have done a brilliant thing in beating New York (yes, New York, USA) in the competition to hold this year's International Indian Film Academy (aka the Oscars of Bollywood).  The IIFA have decided to 'go green' as their theme - and have teamed up with Global Cool to reach the estimated 500 million Indians who will watch the awards ceremony. To mobilise Indian people around climate change is critical to international negotiations.  I hope this helps.

posted by David Miliband on 29 Mar 07 with 2 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

One Planet Security

The US commentator Thomas Friedman said: "We are financing both sides in the war on terrorism: the US army with our tax dollars, and Islamist charities, madrassas and terrorist organisations through our oil purchases".  I am sure he is right that climate change is a security issue as well as an environmentla issue.  The attached speech sets out my views.

posted by David Miliband on 29 Mar 07 with 5 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Blog Costs

Contrary to the repeated falsehood that this blog costs £40,000, here are the facts.  The initial start up cost of the blog at ODPM was £6,000.  The changeover to Defra cost £1,250 and ongoing technical costs amount to £900 pa.  Since I write my own blogs, read comments, and don't have a shadow blogger the admin costs are low: one valiant official spends part of his time posting blogs and comments. It is estimated that this takes around 10 hours per month at an estimated cost of £300.

posted by David Miliband on 22 Mar 07 with 44 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Country Life (part 2)

I understand that an earlier entry was construed by some people as party political. For the avoidance of doubt, the entry now contains no reference to political parties and simply reproduces an interesting/suggestiv/thoughtful, perhaps even visionary - and certainly not otherwaise - quotation from Aneurin Bevan (In Place of Fear, chapter three)

"Where the countryside is neglected it always takes its revenge. Unless county and town march together is reciprocal activity, civilisation will limp on one foot."

posted by David Miliband on 22 Mar 07 with 3 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Breaking the international climate deadlock

The 13 environment ministers gathered in Potsdam last week did not find the inspiration for a great breakthrough on climate change - but that was never on the agenda. What we needed to do was map the negotiating space for progress from leaders gathering in june.

In this respect the speech by the South African minister deserves to be widely read.  It cuts to the chase: developed countries critically including the usa need to take on binding emission reduction commitments, and developing countries need to make a "quantum leap" in the way they think about climate danger. Truth is that the interdependence of economic growth and environmental protection creates the possibility of squaring the climate circle.

I came away clear that the drive for a "stabilisation goal" for the globe, whether in terms of the stock of pollution or the amount of tolerable temperature change, needs to be allied to a development goal if we are to assure the developing countries that we are not asking them to sacrifice their drive against poverty.

posted by David Miliband on 20 Mar 07 with 4 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Myths about rubbish

Don't let the facts get in the way, but enviros consulting and cranfield university have researched the issue of alternate weekly collections introduced by local government, and whether it will bring rats, bubonic plague and other nasties. Turns out that if you bag up rubbish properly, there are no adverse health impacts. My conclusions are a) local authorities should design the system that works for them - that is what local democracy is for, b) we should continue to look for ways to change behaviour in a safe and sensible way.

posted by David Miliband on 20 Mar 07 with 21 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Press does good - shock

I promised to highlight the work of the parliamentary press gallery essay competition in taking forward the message on climate change. I met the winners a couple of weeks ago and said I would highlight one of the questions.  The toughest was "what's the best way for young people to nag their parents?".  I was lost for words. Help welcome.

posted by David Miliband on 20 Mar 07 with 1 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Progress on Rural Development Funding

It’s not often that there are multi-billion pound decisions outside the EU buidget round but yesterday that happened.  Eight months after the European Commission came forward with proposals for the regulation of the 2007-13 Rural Development Programme the end is in sight for negotiations between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.  I travelled to Brussels yesterday to secure agreement for key UK objectives – flexibility for the use of voluntary modulation (shifting money from payments according to the amount of land in Pillar 1 of the CAP to payments for deliver mainly of environmental goods like land management under the Entry and Higher Level Schemes) across the UK and flexibility over the ‘franchise’ (starting level of modulation).

The unanimous agreement among the 27 countries of a mechanism to deliver this flexibility for the UK (and Portugal) means that subject to confirmation from the European Parliament on Wednesday that they are happy with the position we can proceed to finalise our programme and get the money out to rural areas.  I have said that we will use the ability to modulate funding, but below the 20% maximum level; that there will be significant co-financing (matching European money with UK money); and that we will publish the details of our decision soon.  Watch this space.

posted by David Miliband on 20 Mar 07 with 2 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Island Nation

It is astonishing and frightening that only 0.5% of the world's seas are governed by clear legislation to ensure sustainability. The Government's 2005 election manifesto included a commitment to legislate for a landmark Marine Act, to establish for the first time an integrated system for sustaining and enhancing the economic, social and environmental impact of our seas. The Marine Bill White Paper takes us a big step closer, with firm proposals for planning, licensing, fishing and biodiviersity, brought together under a Marine Management Organisation.

At a time when the Millenium EcoSystems Assessment reports that 46% of the world's fish stocks face extinction - not dangerous reduction but extinction - the need not just for a UK lead but for global work in this area is urgent.

posted by David Miliband on 16 Mar 07 with 2 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

One planet playlist

MTV Flux are 'Going Green'. I'm being interviewed for it and they've asked me to put together a 10 song green playlist. Martha and the vandellas' Dancing in the Street would definitely be one of my Desert Island Discs and dancing is pretty low-carbon. But what others? So far, I've only come up with 'big yello taxi' by joni mitchell which probably shows my age. Someone in the office just showed me the eric prydz video 'proper education' which samples the old pink floyd song 'another brick in the wall'. Global Cool worked on the video to make it carbon neutral and it has shots of children breaking into people's homes to fit energy efficient lightbulbs. Perhaps, I can suggest it to the Energy Saving Trust...Anyway, I'm now stuck, so grateful for ideas for a one-planet playlist.

posted by David Miliband on 15 Mar 07 with 42 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

The Great Climate Change Swindle?

Several people have said to me that they couldn’t quite believe what they were being told in Channel 4’s programme last week on climate change – and I promised yesterday in my interview on the Today programme  to put the facts on my blog. Below I have set out what Defra scientists say about the 11 main allegations in the programme. You can read for yourself what the International Panel on Climate Change say or the statement of the Academies of Science of the 11 largest countries in the world.

I am convinced well beyond reasonable doubt that the swindle is not being perpetrated by the vast, vast majority of scientists in the world. There will always be people with conspiracy theories trying to do down the scientific consensus, and that is part of scientific and democratic debate, but the science of climate change looks like fact to me. If the effect of the programme, instead of making people think, is in fact to make them disregard the accepted science (in other words stop thinking) then that would be a real swindle.

The following key allegations are paraphrased from the programme “The Great Global Warming Swindle”.

1. The high temperatures seen in the last few decades are not unique. Temperatures are naturally variable and have been higher in the past, for example, during the Medieval Warm period (800-1300AD).

It is true that temperatures have been higher than today’s in the distant past. However, for the Northern Hemisphere at least, it is clear the rapid warming of the past half century has resulted in a level of warmth not seen in at least 500 years, and likely for at least the past 1300 years. For the Southern Hemisphere, long records of temperatures are more scarce and therefore it is difficult to draw such clear conclusions. The important characteristic about the current warmth is that it is global, whereas many previous warming periods have occurred over smaller areas.

Globally, eleven out of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the warmest 12 years since records began in 1850. Over the past century, temperatures have risen by 0.74°C, with 0.4°C of this warming since 1970.

Climate models indicate that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, by the middle of the century the world could reach a level of warmth not seen since the peak of the last interglacial period, around 125,000 years ago. At that time, sea levels were around 4 – 6m greater than today.

2. The key piece of evidence used by scientists to prove the warming effect of greenhouse gases is that in the past, on timescales of hundreds of millennia, global temperatures have followed carbon dioxide concentrations, i.e. when temperatures are high, carbon dioxide levels are high. But this is not true, changes in carbon dioxide concentrations actually lag behind changes in temperature.

Firstly, this is not the key piece of evidence for human-induced climate change. Basic physics tells us that an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations will have a warming effect on the climate. Levels of carbon dioxide alone now far exceed that at any time in at least the past 650,000 years. The trend and pattern of current warming is consistent with what we would expect for the observed rise in greenhouse gases.

Secondly, it is true that temperature changes appear to have preceded CO2 changes through glacial-interglacial cycles in the distant past. However, this just suggests that CO2 was not the initial driver of the glacial cycles. The evidence suggests that CO2 levels rose as a result of warming, possibly as the surface of the ocean warmed. As CO2 has a warming effect on the climate, it would then act as a feedback – stimulating additional warming.

Now human emissions are causing the rise in CO2 levels, and therefore, the resulting warming of the climate.

Aside: Climate models predict that the positive feedback effect between temperature and CO2 seen in the distant past could happen again in the future if global temperatures reach high enough levels.

3. The trend in carbon dioxide concentrations over the past century does not match that of temperature, and therefore, carbon dioxide can not be the key driver. For example, in the middle of the century, when emissions were growing rapidly, temperatures actually fell.

It is true that the trend in CO2 concentrations over the last century does not exactly match the trend in temperature. But we do not expect it to. This is for two key reasons. Firstly, there is a time lag between warming and changes in CO2, caused by the inertia in the climate system. Secondly, greenhouse gases are not the only determinant of temperature. Aerosols, which are also emitted from human activities, are also important and can be shown to explain much of the cooling seen in the middle of the 20th century.

Climate models represent the lag in the response of the climate, and the influence of many external factors. These show that the trend in temperatures does match what we would expect. Based on these analyses and others, the recent report of the IPCC concluded that most of the warming over at least the last 50 years has been caused by the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations.

4. Most of the 20th century warming occurred before 1940, when carbon dioxide emissions were still relatively low.

This first statement is not correct. Global temperatures did rise during the first few decades of this century, but much of the warming seen this century has occurred since around 1970 (0.4°C of the total 0.74°C warming). Global temperatures have risen almost continuously since 1950. The linear growth rate in temperature during the past 50 years is nearly twice that of the last 100 years. While the IPCC concluded that much of the warming over the past 50 years is very likely due to greenhouse gases, the cause of the warming in the first half of the century is not clear. Current thinking is that it was likely a mixture of natural and human factors.

5. The patterns of warming in the atmosphere do not match what we would expect for a warming caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations and therefore, can not be the cause.

This is not correct. The patterns of warming in the atmosphere do match what we would expect. Previously reported discrepancies were due to problems with early versions of observed data from satellites and radiosondes. These errors were corrected a few years ago.

6. Human emissions are only a tiny fraction of total natural emissions and therefore can not be important in causing climate change.

It is true that human emissions are relatively small compared to natural emissions, particularly from ecosystems and the oceans. However, these natural emissions are in balance: the amount emitted is then reabsorbed. Human emissions tip the balance and lead to an accumulation of gases in the atmosphere. The human source can be shown through, for example, examining the chemical make-up and distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere.

7. There is no evidence that human emissions are causing the current warming trend.

This is not true. As stated in the recent IPCC report, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, due to human emissions, have caused most of the warming observed over the past half century. Both the spatial patterns and trend of warming can only be explained by the inclusion of human emissions. It is very unlikely that the rapid increase in global temperatures seen over the past half century could be caused by natural factors alone. For example, the most recent report of the IPCC concludes that the warming effect of human emissions is around ten times that of solar variations.

8. Attribution studies rely on climate models, but these models are tuned to give the right results and therefore can not be trusted.

Climate models are an essential tool in understanding how the climate will respond to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, and other external effects, such as solar output changes and volcanoes. The models use fundamental physics and chemistry to simulate processes within the climate system and are rigorously assessed to ensure their reliability.

9. Past changes in climate have been driven by natural factors, such as changes in solar radiation and cosmic rays. It is most likely that these same natural factors are causing the current warming.

It is true that natural factors have driven climate changes in the past. But it is considered very unlikely that the rapid increase in global temperatures seen over the past half century could be caused by natural factors alone. Both the spatial patterns and trend of warming can only be explained by the inclusion of human emissions.

It is clear that changes in solar radiation are a significant driver of the climate. However, there is strong evidence that changes in solar radiation could not have caused the rapid warming observed over the past half century. The warming effects of changes in solar output since pre-industrial are estimated to be less than around one tenth that of human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Despite recent claims, there is no scientifically robust evidence suggesting that cosmic ray variations have, or could even, play a significant role in recent warming. Variations in cosmic rays over the past few decades can not explain the long-term global warming trend.

10. Observed changes in sea ice are due to natural factors.

Sea ice extent does change naturally, but the current reduction in sea ice extent is in line with what we would expect in a warming world.

11. The scientific process is biased.

The IPCC is the most authoritative voice on climate change. Its assessments represent the consensus of thousands of scientists worldwide, based on peer-reviewed research. Objectivity is ensured by the broad and open review process and shared responsibility for the report. No one government, organisation or individual has sole responsibility for any part of the report.

posted by David Miliband on 14 Mar 07 with 51 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

An Environmental Bill of Rights?

The draft Climate Change Bill published today is a unique attempt by any Government to bind its successors to carbon reductions led by the science of climate change.  I hope people will read the strategy and consultation document and engage in the debate.  Someone in my office described it as an eco-contract with the future; it is more than targets though they are important, it is a way of managing pollution in the same way that we manage public expenditure.

There will be huge advantages for the countries which get ahead in the drive to become a low carbon economy.  Our proposed legislative framework is born of honest recognition that breaking the link between economic growth and pollution is important but insufficient (since 1997 the economy has grown by 28% and greenhouse gas emissions including the EU ETS are down by 11%).  We need to do better to become a clean economy.  So a legislative framework, with the powers to extend the pricing of carbon across the economy, is the right way forward.

Here's a short movie clip of me explaining more about the draft bill.

posted by David Miliband on 13 Mar 07 with 33 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Budgeting for Carbon

It's an easy hit on politicians to say we are god at setting targets but not meeting them.  Leave to one side that the targets adopted at Kyoto for greenhouse gas emissions are being met by this country.  There is a good argument that in respect of climate change, which is spurred by the stock of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere not just the flow at any one time, it is more important to have a budget for the amount of carbon to b released. 

That is to be the approach of the Climate Change Bill, and the rationale is set out in Gordon Brown's comprehensive speech yesterday.  Carbon budgeting ensures that every tonne of carbon counts.  It addresses the stock of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) in the atmosphere.  It ensures that annual fluctuations in weather or other factors are smoothed out, without compromising on the need for declining overall reductions in pollution.  As the Chancellor says, accounting for carbon and accounting for pounds sterling are both central to modern economics.

posted by David Miliband on 13 Mar 07 with 11 Comments (view/add) | Permalink

Land fit for Heroes

One of the great achievements of the 1945 Labour Government was the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.  It was inspired by the idea that society needed a collective view of its land, and that the planning system should help deliver it.  60 years on we have avoided some of the free for all that has dominated other countries - but there are huge frustrations with the planning system.

The challenge for government is to balance economic, social and environmental considerations.  That means avoiding a salami-slicing of the countryside.  But there is a challenge too for the environmental movement; to avoid thinking that all change is bad change.  It's a false choice to say we either stay as we are or concrete over the countryside with houses or wind farms.

This tension runs through the lecture I am giving today to mark the 80th birthday of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE).  I would like to see greener green belt; more land used for renewable energy; a more holistic approach to environmental concern.  Glad to get your views.

A debate on the CPRE website is underway following my speech.

posted by David Miliband on 09 Mar 07 with 15 Comments (view/add) | Permalink