Barry Gardiner has been the Labour MP for Brent North since 1997. He is currently Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international trade and shadow minister for international climate change. He has been in these roles since October 2016. Previously, he was Ed Miliband’s special envoy for climate change and the environment, as well as serving on select committees and having various roles in the last Labour government. He is also the current European vice-president of GLOBE International.
- Gardiner on Donald Trump: “At a federal level, no matter how much Trump wants to roll that back, it’s going to be very difficult to stop that business investment.”
- On the possible threat to climate science funding in the US: “We have to proceed on the basis of science…If we’re denied the data because the federal programme to NASA gets cut off, that’s serious.”
- On the influence of Brexit on the EU’s climate leadership: “Without a strong voice from the UK, as part of those discussions, then politically Europe may fall behind and that very important role that Europe has been able to play in the international negotiations may be lost.”
- On China’s reaction to Trump regarding climate action: “I think that China will not flinch at all.”
- On India and climate change: “We need to see much stronger effort coming from India.”
- On right-wing media attacks on the UK’s foreign aid budget: “Gone are the days when we can possibly, credibly, think that we are an island nation, divorced from what happens in the rest of the world.”
- On the slashing of Foreign Office staff working on climate change: “Paris gives us the tools to do the job. If you then take the labour force away from those tools, you’re not going to get the job done. The Foreign Office needs to wake up and it needs to put that back in place.”
- On the folding of DECC into BEIS: “It can’t make energy policy now secondary to what manufacturers are saying they want to continue in an old model of production, under an old industrial strategy.”
- On the EU’s emissions trading system: “I think the ETS is in trouble, I think it needs a wholesale rethink.”
- On the influence of the Climate Change Act: “I think it’s one of the proudest achievements of the Labour government…The impact that it’s had globally has been fantastic.”
- On the government’s delay in publishing a carbon plan: “I’m sorry. It’s not good enough. They’ve had six years, six years to put this in place and it’s still not there.”
- On Labour’s pledge to have at least 65% renewables by 2030: “Is it achievable? Yes, of course it’s achievable. Is there a political cost to it? Yes, of course there is.”
- On whether the 1.5C target is feasible: “Politically, I don’t think 1.5 is achievable…My own view is that we will bust through that threshold.”
- On the UK’s global leadership on climate action: “I want the UK to be taking leadership, to be continuing its leadership in this field. I feel, at the moment, we’ve lost that.”
- On whether we are heading for well beyond 2C of warming: “I think that is a council of despair. The best way of dealing with that is to take the necessary mitigation measures.”
- On viewing climate change holistically: “Unless we understand that it is part of the whole way in which our ecosystems and our biodiversity and this planet cohere together to make life conducive for us, we’re not going to solve the problem.”
Carbon Brief: Let’s begin with a somewhat big and chewy question: how will the election of Donald Trump likely impact on international efforts to tackle climate change?
Barry Gardiner: It could impact in a number of ways. We could see the US withdrawing, we could see them withdrawing from the convention [UNFCCC] as whole, not just the treaty [Paris Agreement]. My sense of it is that the US role has been incredibly important under Obama, in the work that’s been done with China. It really was that that enabled us to have Paris enter into force. That was a key moment.
How much the fact that you’ve now got the federal programme clearly going to grind to a halt in the US is going to impact internationally, I doubt. I think it’s a tragedy. I think it’s really wrong that that is going to happen, but I do think you’ve got to look further down the scale of the US and say, actually, the work that’s going on now at city level, the work that’s going on at state level, the way in which business now is driving this agenda is really critical. Had we had President Trump before we had the US China bilateral, it would have been a very different matter.
I actually think that we’ve gone past that critical point for the international community, because Paris is now in force. We know now it’s net-zero by the second half of the century and business is taking that on board, investors are taking that on board. At a federal level, no matter how much Trump wants to roll that back, it’s going to be very difficult to stop that business investment.
I think there are other key areas in which a President Trump could really affect the international effort here and, actually, ironically, that’s in relation to what he does with NASA. It’s basically the satellite services. It’s looking at that overall climate position and the way in which we understand what’s going on in the atmosphere. If those programmes are rolled back, we really do need to have that data supplied by other means. There is a question of who’s going to step into that void and fulfil that gap? That I think is a real issue, because data is essential. We have to proceed on the basis of science. We have to proceed on the basis of data. If we’re denied the data because the federal programme to NASA gets cut off, that’s serious.
CB: Similarly, what will the impact of Brexit be on the EU’s own efforts?
BG: There’s going to be a quota sharing and quite how that works out, I think, will be of interest. Is the UK going to step up to the plate? You’ve got to remember that, actually, by 2018 we should be engaging in the [Paris Agreement’s] first ratchet. We should be looking to, instead of our share of 40%, we should be ratcheting it up to 50-something percent anyway, really. Those are issues that we need to deal with.
I think the way in which we relate to Europe, both through the ETS [emissions trading system] and through the European Investment Bank, are going to be critical in different ways. A response to a PQ [parliamentary question] a few weeks ago made clear that the government is looking at whether it continues within the ETS. That, in and of itself, is a worrying indicator of the government’s own doubts on this. Whether we continue with the European Investment Bank, that is of huge import to the renewables industry in the UK. I think it’s something like 31 billion that the EIB has invested in UK renewables. I think we were the largest recipient in that sense.
These are huge financial impacts and there’s then the political question on top of that. The political question is the leadership that the UK has given, within the EU, as a strong force for action on climate change, trying to ensure that we strengthen our commitments. That being taken out of the EU mix is potentially damaging globally, because it means that the EU’s position is likely to be weaker in the future.
I have confidence in Paris. I have confidence in Berlin. There are others in the European Union who have been dragging their feet for a number of years, who’ve been trying to impose a sort of drag on the process. That’s my worry, that without a strong voice from the UK, as part of those discussions, then politically Europe may fall behind and that very important role that Europe has been able to play in the international negotiations may be lost.
CB: How do you see both India and China – two key global emitters – approaching the UNFCCC negotiations during the era of Trump?
BG: My sense of things is that China will see this almost as an opportunity. I think China has shown it’s own commitment, it’s recently enhanced its huge investment in its own renewable programme. I think that China will not flinch at all. They have committed to tackling climate change for very good domestic reasons. The pollution problems that they’ve had in China, they’re fully aware that they need to act on this issue. I think they will continue their commitment. I think they will almost see this as an opportunity to take global leadership on this issue, as they’re seeking to do on so many others. I’m not concerned that there will any lessening of effort on China’s part.
India, I think, is a more interesting, more nuanced politic. You have at the top of the Indian political scene, Narendra Modi, who was the first chief minister in India to appoint a state minister for climate change. He understands the issues. I’ve talked through the issues personally with him, both when he was chief minister and as prime minister. He’s somebody who understands the issues. The way in which the Indian government has always approached this, though, has always been much more with the sense of, this is a problem that the rich world caused that we are now facing. They’ve been less willing to dynamically engage than China has.
I’m not sure Trump, per se, will affect that dynamic, but I do think that we need to see much stronger effort coming from India. We need to see much greater focus from them. Prakash Javadekar, who is the Indian minister, again he’s somebody who has been dealing with environmental matters. I’ve known him in GLOBE for probably 10 years. He hasn’t really pushed the agenda in the way that I think most of us would have liked to have seen.
Suresh Prabhu, who had a previous track record in the environment industry, is now, unfortunately, the railways minister. He’ll be a very good railways minister, but Suresh is somebody who I think might have given this a bit more force. We need people like him talking with Piyush Goyal, at the energy portfolio there, making sure that there is a coherent programme of tackling climate change in India. They’ve got huge resources, potentially, and my sense is that they haven’t really worked out how they can use that to their own best advantage, I have to say, that renewable resource that they could generate and actually how they can contribute to the global effort, as a result.
CB: There is concerted campaigning across a number of right-wing newspapers at present against the UK’s foreign aid budget. The UK government has committed to spend £5.8bn from this budget, between 2016 and 2021, on international climate finance. Why is it important to commit the UK’s foreign aid budget to tackling climate change abroad?
BG: Those people who think that relieving poverty in the world has nothing to do with the environment simply fail to understand that more than 50% of the GDP of the poorest people in the world comes from their environment. The changes that are going on in land-use, the changes that are going on in terms of flooding and inundation are absolutely at the heart of tackling poverty. Potentially, climate change has the most dramatic impact that we’ve ever seen on the poor of the world.
A climate programme is not an add-on to poverty. I think there are some people who would like to turn all our foreign aid money into, when there’s an earthquake, let’s buy blankets. I oversimplify, but only to make my point. It should not be that our aid budget is about disaster relief alone. It should be that our aid budget is focused on the most serious threats to the poorest people in the world. If you are subject to repeated flooding, or adverse weather, your food security is gone, often your housing will be blown away, or flooded out. Your livelihoods are gone. That is why we have to tackle the climate-related risks to the poorest people in the world.
They are dependent on stability there. Many of those people are living in delta plains. If you look at the whole area in south-east Asia, those who are most vulnerable – some of the poorest people in the world – are most vulnerable in those low-lying areas that are going to be most subjected to adverse weather.
CB: There are some within DFID at the moment who seem to be suggesting that that budget should be moved towards the trading side of international relations…
BG: It’s the Pergau Dam all over again, yes.
CB: What about the self-interest argument of using our foreign aid? Does that play into the climate change spectrum?
BG: Gone are the days when we can possibly, credibly, think that we are an island nation, divorced from what happens in the rest of the world. If we do not tackle the major causes of poverty and injustice in the world, if we do not tackle the major causes of migration in the world, as refugees come from areas which are increasingly subject to desertification, or to flooding and coastal inundation. If we don’t deal with those problems, if we don’t actually deal with the source of the problem, then can we really expect to be insulated from the effects of the problem? The effects of those problems result in people perceiving injustice, whether rightly or wrongly and resorting to violence. It results in refugees who are having to move away from the areas where they can no longer live sustainably.
CB: The Foreign Office has seen the number of staff dedicated to working on climate change slashed since the Paris Agreement. Is this sensible?
BG: Let me start with the positive. The work that the Foreign Office has done, over the past decade and more, has been absolutely critical in bringing us to where we are now, globally on climate change, having the Paris Agreement. The commitment that the Foreign Office has made in the past has been superlative. I confess, I was extremely worried in 2010 when William Hague came and he had a review of what was going on, in terms of our diplomacy on climate change, but he took a good look at it and he came to the right conclusion; that, actually, the soft power that we exercise in this area gave the UK huge traction and huge respect. He maintained that cadre of civil servants within the Foreign Office who were working on climate change around the world. I congratulate him for that.
The new administration at the Foreign Office, I think, is deeply worrying. I think the permanent secretary is somebody who has not got the same appreciation of the benefits to the UK from that influence and soft power that our climate diplomacy has given us. I think the way in which David King was effectively dismissed was a disgrace. I think the rearguard action that was fought, in order to secure a replacement as the climate envoy, was welcome, but we need to see the outcome of that.
The really lame reasoning that has been used, that said, “Well, the Paris Agreement has now happened, we don’t need to have such investment in climate diplomacy,” is either willfully ignorant… [pauses]… It’s either ignorant or willfully damaging, both to the progress that we need to make and also the UK’s interests. We are now at a phase, where we have in Paris established a process that could work, but it will only work if, in fact, the efforts in climate diplomacy around the world are maintained and reinforced.
Paris doesn’t do the job. Paris gives us the tools to do the job. If you then take the labour force away from those tools, you’re not going to get the job done. The Foreign Office needs to wake up and it needs to put that back in place.
CB: In terms of the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change, what signal to the outside world did folding DECC into BEIS send?
BG: A lot of people criticised the government when Theresa May did that. I didn’t. I was a minister, both in the Department of Trade and Industry, when we had an energy minister in that department. I was also a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when climate change stood within that department. I was delighted when we merged the two together and I think that was the right thing, at that time, to do.
It was the galvanising of those two that enabled us to get the Climate Change Act in 2008. I actually think that it’s right to say we want our industrial strategy to be based upon our low-carbon future. If our low-carbon energy policy is driving our industrial strategy that is absolutely the right thing to do.
We have a department, which is called the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That, I think, is great, as long as low-carbon energy policy is driving the industrial strategy. If we turn that round and say we need an energy policy that is a hand-maiden to our industrial strategy, as used to be the case in the old DTI, then it will be disaster.
We have the opportunity to get it right. I’m working with Clive Lewis, within the Labour team, to make sure that they, in shadow BEIS, get it right. That we say, no, the key thing is a low-carbon future; the key thing is that we have to net-zero [emissions] by the second half of the century. That must drive our industrial strategy. It must be the guide for where we put investment, it must be the guide for where we set industrial targets. It must be a very clear signal to business about how they have to perform to get us to where we need to be.
It’s about the opportunities for business growth. It’s very clear that the low-carbon sector of our industry… it only comprises 6% of our economy, but for three years it’s provided 30% of the growth in that economy. That’s why this is important. It’s not just important because we want to do good things about tackling climate change, it’s important because this is a huge growth sector and a huge growth employer and opportunity for us.
I think having a department that is Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy can be a huge benefit to the UK. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have the Department of Energy and Climate Change as such, but it has to have that right focus. It can’t make energy policy now secondary to what manufacturers are saying they want to continue in an old model of production, under an old industrial strategy.
CB: Once the UK leaves the EU, which UNFCCC negotiating bloc should we reside within?
BG: It’s always the tricky ones that catch you out, isn’t it? [Pauses] Look, we’re leaving the EU, we’re not leaving Europe, to repeat a phrase that has been announced by the government over many years. I hope that we will still continue to coordinate very closely with our colleagues in Europe. We need to do that. We have all sorts of connectivities, physical connectivities, in terms of interconnections with the continent, as well as investment into connections, as well as the ETS, as well as the EIB, where we need to see those links maintained and continued into the future. I hope that we will continue to work with our colleagues in Europe, as part of Europe, in presenting a voice to them.
CB: On that topic, how do you see the future of the EU ETS unfolding, especially after Brexit?
BG: There are really problems with the ETS. I think they are problems that we’ve recognised for a number of years. I go back to the very formulation, or the formation of the ETS. I remember sitting in the Cabinet sub-committee, where John Prescott presided. I’d actually come there as a minister from the DTI [Department for Trade and Industry], Margaret Beckett had come from DEFRA. I remember her saying, “The caps are simply not tight enough. We need tougher caps. If this is going to work, we need tighter caps.”
I looked at my DTI brief, of course, trade and industry brief, and my brief said, “We need slacker caps, industry’s going to be decimated by this.” I just put my brief away and said, “Margaret’s absolutely right.” I got back into the department, before I walked into the department the news had got back to the permanent secretary and I was summoned into the see the permanent secretary. He said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said, “I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and that’s to go to a sub-committee of cabinet and listen to the argument and then take a decision accordingly. Margaret was right. The next week they transferred me in to DEFRA in big reshuffle.
We’ve known for years that the ETS, I think, in theory you and I would both say, if it’s a choice between a carbon tax and a trading scheme, then what’s the difference? The difference is very clear. A carbon tax says that you have control of price, but you don’t have control of emissions. A trading scheme means you’ve got control of the emissions, but you don’t have control of the price.
As people concerned with climate change, what do we want? We want control of the emissions. In that very loose sense, you could say that the ETS has fulfilled its function, because the emissions levels that we predicated for it have been achieved, but, actually, what it hasn’t done is act in the way that we wanted, as a driver of increasing ambition. It hasn’t helped us to bear down on things. We’ve taken advantage of recessions and so on, hence all the issues about back-loading and how we deal with it in future.
I think the ETS is in trouble, I think it needs a wholesale rethink. We do need to be much more tougher on our ambition for it. I’m not optimistic that we’re going to be able, given the current politics in the rest of Europe, to get the ETS to do what I am sure we would both want and that is to act as a force that is really driving us in the right direction, taking advantage of when the economic circumstances mean there is natural downturn in emissions and then capping off at that level and moving forward. An ambitious ETS would be doing that, unfortunately I don’t think the ambition is there politically to do it.
CB: What influence has the UK’s Climate Change Act had on an international level, since it became law almost a decade ago?
BG: I think it’s one of the proudest achievements of the Labour government. The ramifications of the Climate Change Act… I can not count the number of meetings that I’ve had with foreign delegations, in different countries, here in the UK, with delegations saying, “Tell us about your Climate Change Act, we want to understand how it works. We want to try and replicate it in our own situation. We want… We may change it slightly, but…” It has been the benchmark, it has been the gold standard internationally. Still I have legislators from around the world, asking me to explain it to them exactly how it works.
When I tell them that this is about setting a framework, setting targets in place, making sure that you have the independent advice and the Committee on Climate Change setting your budget, then setting your carbon plan to achieve your budget, then they realise. This was the model for Paris. This was how Paris could actually came about, because that model had been put in place all those years ago.
The impact that it’s had globally has been fantastic. As I say, it’s certainly, in my time as a minister it was one of the things that I’m proudest to have worked on. It’s one the things that I think my party should be most proud of, because it’s had global significance.
CB: Is it secure, with certain voices within the current administration clearly against it, despite it passing at the time with almost unprecedented levels of support?
BG: Let me say this. Greg Clark, when he was the shadow minister in 2008, he understood the issue and he gave bipartisan support. He’s now in charge of the department as the secretary of state for BEIS. Nick Hurd is somebody who has been working on forestry and understands the needs, in particular of the Amazon, tremendously well. Both of them are people with a good record.
Recently, of course, Jesse Norman has just taken over from the noble Baroness [Neville-Rolfe], the full scope of the energy portfolio. He’s somebody who doesn’t come from a climate or an energy background, but he’s an intelligent man who is reasonable, articulate and within that team I think, I would hope, that they are arguing the case in government.
That’s the upside, that’s what I want to say positively. The real question about the effectiveness going forward of the Climate Change Act is quite simply, are they going to produce a carbon plan for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Are they going to produce a carbon plan that is in keeping with what Paris will require, which is a net-zero plan by 2020, for the second half of the century?
The rules under the Climate Change Act… the statutory rule is very clear. After you have set your carbon budget, you must then, as soon as reasonably practical, that’s what the rules say, you must set out your implementation plan showing how you will achieve it. In 2011, the government set in place the forthcoming budget. We still do not have a carbon plan showing how they’re going to achieve it.
We know from what the Committee on Climate Change has told us that now having set– all be it they set it late, last year – they did not meet the 30 June deadline. We know that the Committee on Climate Change has told us they are 47% away from achieving the fifth carbon budget. That is hugely troubling. It’s very easy to set a budget that won’t come into play for another five, 10, 15 years. What’s difficult is to show how you’re going to achieve it, to set in place the mechanisms, the targets, the processes, the support mechanisms.
The very fact that the government has delayed now, for almost six years, in publishing an appropriate roadmap to achieving the fourth carbon budget and now the fifth, means that you can respect the Climate Change Act in word, but you can trans [inaudible] it by what you actually do.
CB: Nick Hurd has recently confirmed – or promised, I think – to publish that carbon plan by, I think, the end of March, or the end of Q1 of this year…
BG: Hang on. He also promised to do it by the end of last year. The law, the statute, says it should have been published as soon as reasonably practicable after June 2011. We’ve been promised this for five-and-a-half years, without it being delivered. Yes, I welcome any deadline that brings this momentous event closer, but it should have happened already and I want to see that when it does happen it’s actually up to the job of delivering on those carbon budgets.
CB: Do you think they’re struggling behind the scenes with the maths, making it add up, making an energy national carbon plan that can deliver that stretch target by the early 2030s, or when the fifth carbon budget period is? What do you think is the reasoning behind these constant delays?
BG: The honest, look… I’m not saying that this is easy. It’s not easy. You’ve got to take tough decisions and you’ve got to set tough targets. Let’s look at sectors where actually there has been under performance; let’s look at domestic energy consumption, energy efficiency, where we are way, way below the targets here. What does that mean? If you’re looking at a programme of domestic installation, the government tried to do that through the calamitous Green Deal, which we said right from the start would not work financially. It didn’t stand up.
The government is always keen to do things that are through incentives. It tries to do things at least cost, but it tries to be nice to people and get them to do it. The government is going to have to take some tough decisions about also using sticks as well as carrots. It’s also going to have take some tough decisions about the amount of resource that it’s prepared to put in to reach its targets. It’s clear to me that the Treasury is reluctant to put in the funding that may be required.
I think there are political issues and I think there are financial issues that make it a very difficult thing to do. That’s why it’s not enough just to have two, or three, ministers within the department, who are keen to get it done. You need to have that cross-government support, from the secretary of state for transport, from the secretary of state at DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government], all of whom are bringing all of their guns to bear on getting this to happen. You then have to have a Treasury that is responsive in saying, this is priority for us as well.
CB: Are you getting a sense that that’s happening?
BG: No, I’m not. No, absolutely. That’s why I don’t think we ended up having a fulfilment of the promise that the carbon plan would be in place by the end of December. Here we are, third week in January and we’re now being told it’s going to be the end of the first quarter. I’m sorry. It’s not good enough. They’ve had six years, six years to put this in place and it’s still not there.
CB: Jeremy Corbyn said we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground and generate at least 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewables, by 2030. Is that achievable?
BG: It’s not just Jeremy Corbyn that’s saying it. Let’s get, you know… [Laughs] Jeremy Corbyn didn’t just pluck this out of the air, actually. Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency is saying exactly the same thing. This is based on sound science and evidence, right? That’s the first thing I want to say.
Is it achievable? Yes, of course it’s achievable. Is there a political cost to it? Yes, of course there is. In exactly the same as I’ve just said about the government’s carbon plan, or lack of it, it is essential that we take tough decisions. It’s essential that we say to people, there is going to be a short-term cost to achieving this, but the long-term gain is immeasurable.
CB: The Paris Agreement called for the world to keep global warming since the start of the industrial era to quote, well below 2C and, ideally, aim for 1.5C. Is this feasible? If so, how?
BG: The window to 1.5 is almost closed. Politically, I don’t think 1.5 is achievable, because I don’t believe that all the key countries that need to be taking action to achieve 1.5, or at least to stop us busting that threshold, are going to take the tough political decisions to get us there. My own view is that we will bust through that threshold.
There is a question of, then, could we bring it back down? Could we then take measures to actually be extracting carbon from the atmosphere in such a way that we could then reverse the direction of travel? Yes, we could do that, but, of course, again, as we know, it is more expensive to have to do undo the problem, than to stop it getting to be a problem in the first place. It’s costly.
I think what we have to do is focus our best effort on net-zero, by the second half of this century. That means the government has to publish its own plan, as France and US and Mexico and other countries have already done, for that net-zero plan. That is something that may come, when they publish their carbon plan, the fifth carbon budget, fourth and fifth carbon budget.
CB: The carbon plan goes only to the early 2030s, right? The UNFCCC requests plans for 2050. Correct?
BG: Yes, exactly.
CB: As US and Mexico have already done, for example…
BG: My question, my thinking here is that given they have delayed so long in the carbon plan, might it make sense that when they do come out with it they come out with the whole shebang? And say, “This is the first element here, this is how we propose to achieve that. It’s taking us on the right road through to 2050.”
That would be very welcome if they did that, but it would not be in advance of the game. It’s not something that other countries have not already done. We are now playing catch-up. I regret that. I want the UK to be taking leadership, to be continuing its leadership in this field. I feel, at the moment, we’ve lost that.
CB: Final question. How should the world best prepare for a temperature rise, well beyond 2C, as current emission trajectories imply we’re headed, without urgent international efforts to decarbonise? It’s a kind of a resilience and adaptation question, I suppose…
BG: OK, I don’t like the premise of your question. I don’t want to be in a situation where we’re saying, “Yes, we’re on course for a 4C rise plus.” I think that is a council of despair. The best way of dealing with that is to take the necessary mitigation measures. Let’s talk about the world of adaption and what we need to be doing in terms of adaptation for the climate change that we know is already in the system, for what we know is already coming down the line, as a result of the emissions that we’ve already produced.
The way in which we need to be working with people, again it is working with the poorest people on the planet in many instances. It’s coastal management and in forest management and in the ways in which we look at the changes in agricultural production that have driven forward both by intensification of farming and also by the way in which farming is, agricultural production is encroaching on natural forest.
There are all sorts of issues around land-use change that we really do need to grapple with. That, partly, can be done through the DFID budget. That’s something that in order to protect people from the sorts of coastal inundation at the moment that we know is happening. We need to be looking at how we protect all those natural defence mechanisms, whether they are corals, whether they are mangroves, whether they are swamps. Those are the things that we need to be understanding ,the relations in those ecosystems and how they provide that protection to people, against the impacts of a changing climate.
Within agriculture, we need to look very carefully at how we are going to feed a world of nine-and-a-half billion people, ten billion people. That is putting the biggest strain on land-use and land-use change. I’m deeply concerned about the way in which agriculture is going to greater and greater intensive uses and, of course, part of the problem with that is they end up being in our fresh water and our coastal water systems. Eutrophication of our waters, there’s a real issue around that.
Intensification of agriculture, in some respects, and here you come up against really complex and big issues about not just the just of pesticides, not just the use of fertilisers, but you come up against the issues of GM [genetic modification] and how we cope with the need to adapt ourselves to the issues around GM. These are huge issues. We do need to face up to that.
Fundamentally, it’s about how we put the natural protection systems for the planet in place. We know what they are. This is one area where it really is not rocket science, they’re called trees. We know what they produce, we know that they sequester carbon, we know that they produce rainfall and we know the importance of the micro-climates around them. The way in which continuing forest destruction is happening, particularly virgin forest is deeply worrying. It’s not good enough to say, “We’re going to chop down virgin forest and plant soya plants.” The world cannot continue on that track. It’s not an appropriate substitute.
We really do need to have a much, much more integrated understanding about the ways in which biodiversity contributes to our ability to combat the impact of climate change. We need to be shoring up the Earth’s resources. That’s why it’s hugely disappointing to me that at the convention of biodiversity summit, that they’ve just had in Mexico, we haven’t seen much, much greater focus on why it is that the world is not achieving the Aichi targets.
We have 20 targets there, looking at all sorts of oceans and coastal waters, air pollution, looking at forest management, looking at all the ways in which our ecosystems cohere together, to safeguard the living conditions that we need as human beings on this planet. Of all of those 20 targets, which were set in place in 2010 for 2020, because we hadn’t achieved them between 2000 and 2010, I think only three are on track and they are the procedural ones, they’re not the substantive ones.
That’s hugely worrying. We cannot simply look at climate change as a technical issue. Very often we tend to talk about energy policy, very often we talk about the technical fixes that we can have for climate change. Unless we understand that it is part of the whole way in which our ecosystems and our biodiversity and this planet cohere together to make life conducive for us, we’re not going to solve the problem.
CB: OK. Thank you very much again for your time.
Due to time constraints, the following question was answered by email:
CB: The Trump election win highlighted the political dangers of leaving workers behind as the world transitions to new technologies, especially in the energy sector. How does the world ensure a “just transition” towards a clean-energy future?
BG: We must make the low-carbon transition work for everyone, which means we have to do it together with industry, trade associations, unions, business and citizens. All the principles of the Labour movement tell us this. British workers need reliable guarantees of skilled, well-paid work in high-growth industries that bring investment and long-term jobs to all areas of the UK.
The Conservative government’s attacks on clean-energy industries since May 2015 have gone largely unopposed from a labour rights’ perspective. I am clear that an essential part of ensuring a just transition is the progressive unionisation of the renewable energy industries – and have discussed this with the renewable industry and unions. The Renewable Energy Association found nearly 117,000 employees working in the renewable energy industry in 2014/15. However, there has been little substantive work done to unionise workers in these new sectors.
Trade unions were the key progressive force that shaped the last industrial revolution, won hard-fought rights for British workers and enshrined them in law. It is essential that trade unions participate fully in this new transition and get a good deal for the British workers that we need to build this clean energy future in the UK. This will help the whole Labour movement proactively advocate for the supportive policy environment and the direction of travel for clean-energy industries to grow, create long-term good jobs and skilled apprenticeships with exemplary labour rights at their heart.
This interviewed was conducted by Leo Hickman on 18 January 2017 at Portcullis House, London. Videos were filmed by Rosamund Pearce.