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Flooded UK countryside road
© northallertonman/Shutterstock
23 February 2015 15:20

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plan for the Paris climate deal

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

23.02.2015 | 3:20pm
UK policyCOP21 ParisLabour leader Ed Miliband’s plan for the Paris climate deal

Prospective UK prime minister Ed Miliband has set out his vision for a global climate deal, in an article for the Observer newspaper.

The Labour leader’s  article says tackling climate change would be one of his highest priorities as prime minister, calling it an “economic necessity” and the “single most important thing we can do for our children and our grandchildren”. He says last year’s winter floods showed climate change is a security threat to the UK, as well as globally.

Carbon Brief summarises reactions to the piece and looks more closely at Miliband’s vision for the Paris climate deal, due to be agreed at the end of this year.

Political reactions

The piece has attracted wide press coverage in the UK because of Miliband’s decision to appoint former deputy prime minister John Prescott as a senior climate adviser.

Lord Prescott has a long track record in the international climate arena, as does Miliband, who was energy and climate change secretary when the UK Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. Prescott was the lead EU climate negotiator when the  Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997.

Miliband says of Prescott: “There is no one better than John at bashing heads together to get a deal.” In a column in the  Sunday Mirror, Prescott says any head-bashing will be of the intellectual variety and says his brief is to “raise ambition on this crucial issue”.

The  Guardian says the appointment will give Prescott a “frontline general election role”, with the BBC taking the same line. The  Daily Mail says the move “will be seen as an attempt to turn the clock back to when Labour used to win elections”.

In an article for the  Express, Leo McKinstry calls Prescott a “charmless old bruiser” and says Prescott’s “two Jags” nickname means he has “zero credibility in peddling the green agenda”. The  Telegraph calls Prescott “the bulldog who saved Labour”, but says the appointment may irk Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint.

Prescott’s climate experience

In his article for the Sunday Mirror, Prescott says climate action should be “above politics”. This follows the joint climate pledge signed last week by Miliband, with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Conservative leader David Cameron.

Prescott says UN climate talks in Paris this December should take a dual approach. There should be a top-down global target to cut emissions in line with the existing commitment to limit warming to two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

This overarching aim should be met through bottom-up commitments to action set in national climate legislation, he says, similar to the UK’s own Climate Change Act. Business Green says this is broadly in line with the structure of the proposed Paris deal.

Prescott says:

“The national targets and legislation would be formally included in the domestic legally-binding part of the outcome in an annex to the global agreement. It would also include critical international procedures for such things as monitoring, reporting and verification, as well as for adding to the agreement over time.”

Prescott was involved in a Council of Europe report that also recommends a mixed top-down and bottom-up approach to the global climate deal. He says he has spent the past two years working to get parliamentarians around the world on board with the idea.

Prescott is also a vice president of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) and has given many speeches on international climate politics.

Miliband’s Paris vision

In his Observer article, Miliband gives more details about his aims for the Paris deal. He says it should include:

The first aim, for all countries to set ambitious emissions targets, is in line with the UK government’s official position on the Paris deal, published last year. It is also in line with a leaked draft of the EU’s official view, due to be published later this week and seen by Carbon Brief.

The idea of reviewing and strengthening emissions targets every five years through a ‘ratchet’ mechanism would replicated the Climate Change Act’s five-yearly carbon budgets. The idea is supported by the leaked EU position paper, some developing countries and many NGOs.

Miliband’s call for common rules on measuring, verifying and reporting emissions is in line with the official UK and EU position papers. So, too, is his call for an equitable deal.

More significant is Miliband’s support for a net zero global emissions goal for the second half of the century. The EU’s leaked position adopts a shorter-term goal of cutting global emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, against 2010 levels. Both are in line with the latest science, but over different timescales.

In order to limit warming to two degrees, recent analysis by researchers Climate Analytics shows 2050 emissions should be between 40 and 70 per cent below 2010 levels. The world should then become climate neutral with net-zero emissions by between 2080 and 2100.


Miliband’s intervention and his appointment of Prescott as an adviser are probably directed more at a domestic rather than international audience. UK media has linked it closely to a new poll which puts the Conservatives ahead of Labour for the first time in several years.

Being seen as a leader on climate could be electorally positive for Miliband, also mitigating against potential loss of votes to the Greens. However, Miliband’s support for a net zero emissions target could also become internationally significant, if he is elected in May.

Main image: Flooded UK countryside road.
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