Charlton Speech

British dipomat Alan Charlton, Deputy Head of Mission for the British General-Consul in Washington, D.C., visited the Bren School on April 19 to present a talk titled "Climate Change: The British Response." The assembled audience of was impressed by the government official's rich understanding of the issues involved and the depth and breadth of the thinking that has gone into formulating the government's energetic response to the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The ambassador's message is below.



THE Bren School OF Environmental Science & Management

Alan Charlton

APRIL 19, 2007,

It’s an honour to be invited to speak to you at the Bren School this afternoon. It’s an honour to be introduced by Professor Ernst von Weizsäcker.

I read in the Los Angeles Times yesterday an article asserting that increased use of ethanol as fuel would lead to increased ozone and should therefore not be pursued because it would increase pollution. If greater use of ethanol to replace fossil fuel would lead to a greater ozone problem –I am not informed to be able to judge – then that is something which must be tackled. But the line of argument in this article betrays a misunderstanding about the global warming/climate change issue which is fundamental for all of us – namely that this environmental issue is about the stock of greeenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere, a stock which is already creating a greenhouse effect and global warming. It is a stock which is set to increase rapidly if serious action is not taken in the next few years. 

There has always been a strong attachment to the environment among Americans, promoted in public policy by Teddy Roosevelt and subsequent Administrations. This has been about maintaining pristine some wonderful areas of this country. More recently, it has also been about clean air and clean water. Degradation of the countryside, water and air is something which can be experienced by every individual, as can progress in removing the targeted pollutants. But in the case of global warming the pollutants – greenhouse gas in the atmosphere - cannot be seen, smelled or touched by the individual. 

In some parts of the world, the impacts of global warming are already apparent. This is true in my own country, where the English wine industry in the south-east has started again because of the milder climate to flourish in a way we’ve never known. In the United States, extreme weather events – hurricanes, tornadoes, excessive heat and excessive cold – are not unusual. It is not easy for the public to discern whether the situation is becoming worse. The only US state of which I am aware where this is clearly visible is Alaska: the retreat of the glaciers and the melting of the permafrost are already to be seen and felt.

If we cannot ourselves immediately experience the certainty of climate change, we are reliant on science to tell us what is happening. The science is now compelling. The Governor of California has said that if he had a child whom 98% of scientists said had a fever he would have the fever treated. Over 90% of scientists agree that there has been significant global warming, and has been contributing towards this significantly since the beginning of the industrial revolution and that business as usual risks a level of warming which could cause serious climate change and serious impacts. 

Let us recall that during the last ice age when my country was buried under miles of ice the temperature was only 5-6ºC on average lower than now. If we allow an increase in temperature over the next century of 5-6ºC there are certain to be major impacts. Already the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are higher than at any time for at least the last 650,000 years. 

What would be major impacts? It would be death for many species of life on earth. It would mean flooding in some parts of the world; it would mean drought for others. Those already living in poverty - for example in South Asia and in Africa - would suffer the most. 

Just last week the UK Presidency of the Security Council introduced a debate on climate change underlining that it is an issue of international security. Already the southern tier of Europe is under great pressure from migration through North Africa. If parts of Africa become uninhabitable, this pressure will increase. In South Asia, Bangladesh, a country of 140 million people, is already subject to flooding. With global warming, this flooding will become more severe and migration will be inevitable, with serious security impacts on those already living on higher ground in the region.

There is also urgency. We have 10-15 years for global emissions to peak and then start to decline. If the global average surface temperature increases by more than 2% above the pre-industrial level the risk to people and the planet markedly increase. The European Union’s objective is to limit global warming by no more than 2ºC. To meet this objective atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have to remain well below 550 parts per million volume carbon dioxide equivalent. This requires global emission reductions of at least 15% but perhaps as much as 50% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Industrialised countries have to take the lead and reduce their emissions by 15-30% by 2020 and 60-80% by 2050. The alternative -business as usual – would mean ever more rapid increase in greenhouse gases and rise in temperature. 

So global warming is serious. Action is urgent. 

I want to focus on what the United Kingdom is doing.

This issue matters a great deal to people in the United Kingdom. Whereas many issues divide, climate change unites most people there. All three main political parties have radical programmes to tackle it. Business is convinced of the gravity of the problem and wants to be part of the solution. People of all ages expect their politicians and businesses to take action. Individual Brits want to know what they themselves can do.

In the UK the pressure for action is both top-down from political and business leaders and bottom-up from ordinary people. The two pressures reinforce each other. 

UK Action

The UK is projected to achieve double its target for greenhouse gas reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. Since 1997 the UK economy has grown by 24%; greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 7%. Renewable power generation has doubled. 

Looking ahead, a Climate Change bill has been introduced into the British Parliament. It is currently open for public consultation. It will make the UK the first country to set a long-term legal framework for reducing emissions over the next 45 years and beyond and the means to achieve them. Its ambition is to move the UK to a low-carbon economy and to show how this can be done alongside maintaining economic success. 

Key provisions are:

  • statutory targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through domestic and international action by 60% by 2050 against a 1990 based science;
  • 5-year carbon budgets requiring the government to set binding limits on aggregate carbon dioxide emissions beginning with the period 2008-12. Three successive carbon budgets representing 15 years will be set in legislation at any time;
  • a committee on climate change will be set up as an independent statutory body to advise on the emissions reduction pathway to the 2050 target and will report annually to Parliament on progress. 

This bill has been introduced following agreement in the EU on 20% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020, a binding 20% renewables target and energy liberalisation commitments. The key is setting a carbon price. When we buy goods we expect to pay the cost of labour. We should similarly expect to pay the cost of greenhouse gas emissions. There should be incentives and disincentives to reduce these emissions.

There are three ways of putting a price on carbon in order to incentivise energy-efficient and low-carbon investment – emissions trading, taxation, and regulation. Each of these can play a role in different countries and different sectors of the economy.

First: Emissions trading

The European emissions trading scheme sets a limit on emissions from power stations and energy-intensive business. Companies can either stick to their quota, make reductions and sell their excess allowances, or buy allowances from companies who have made reductions. Nearly half Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions are covered under the current scheme. Looking ahead, the UK is pressing for the inclusion of aviation within the EU emissions trading scheme.

Second: Taxation

Taxation involves setting a carbon price and allowing the level of emissions restriction to vary according to how people and organisations respond. Whereas emissions trading guarantees the environmental outcome, allowing the carbon price to adapt to it, taxation fixes the carbon price and cannot guarantee the level of emissions reductions. The UK government has introduced a range of tax measures which price carbon - for example: the Climate Change Levy which incentivises business energy efficiency. By 2010 it is estimated energy demand will have been reduced in the commercial and public sector by around 15%. In the transport sector, taxation provides incentives to drive less and use other modes of transport or to drive in a more environmentally-friendly way or use more environmentally-friendly vehicles. 

Third: Regulation

Regulation can bring forward new technologies or overcome barriers to change. For example, over the next year the UK and the EU will bring forward proposals to draw up proposals on:

  • zero-carbon homes. The UK aim is to make all new homes zero-carbon by 2016 through better insulation and use of renewable energy. This would be achieved through progressive improvement in building regulations;
  • low-carbon fossil fuel power. The EU is considering how to bring environmentally safe carbon capture and storage to markets if possible by 2020. Let me say a word about carbon capture and storage in relation to coal. This will be an essential technology worldwide if we are to meet a target of 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 from 1990. We shall need all the energy sources we can tap if, as we hope and expect, the world’s economy continues to expand perhaps by a factor of 2 or 3 by 2050, bringing ever more people out of poverty. Coal has the advantage of being plentiful and available in many places around the world. It is cheap. It is also a serious cause of emissions. Carbon capture is a process to divert carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes and store it underground for example in old oil and gas fields. It is already in use by Norway. To accelerate its development the EU and UK are working with China on the Near-Zero Emissions Coal Initiative to demonstrate the technology in China;
  • car emissions. The EU has proposed a law to introduce a mandatory scheme to achieve new ambitious targets to lower car emissions;
  • products. We are looking at product legislation to increase energy efficiency on householder lighting appliances. 

The International Context

Action in the UK is important. UK citizens expect it and expect UK leadership in the global debate. It will contribute towards the effort to tackle the wider issue of global warming. But the UK is responsible for only 2% of global greenhouse emissions. It is a truly global problem, which will only be solved through concerted global action.

Countries understandably want to know that their actions against global warming will be reciprocated by others. Hence, the importance of agreement within the EU – an association of 27 countries. But, looking both at the present and into the future, the two key countries are the United States and China which will soon together be responsible for about half of global emissions. The US will expect China to be part of the solution; China will expect the US to be part of the solution. We need a mechanism including both countries.

In 2005, during the UK Presidency of the G8, the Gleneagles Dialogue established a discussion among the G8 group of nations and five leading developing economies (China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa). We need to build on this Dialogue and establish a post-2012 framework, to follow on the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This ought to be agreed by 2009 to provide sufficient time for countries to ratify the agreement and ensure seamless transition after Kyoto.

The aim is to make a reality of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Common, because all countries need to take action. Differentiated, because richer countries responsible for the historic build-up of emissions must take more responsibility than the developing countries.

The key building blocks of an international framework are:

  • a long-term goal. This would provide clarity on the level of emissions reductions and the timescale for the transition. It would stimulate investment in low-carbon technologies. The goal could be framed in terms of a maximum acceptable temperature rise, or – perhaps better – atmospheric concentration levels of greenhouse gases; between 450-550 ppm. We are at 430 ppm now and levels are increasing at 2½ ppm a year and accelerating;
  • creating a global carbon price. The Kyoto framework enables emissions trading between governments and between businesses: this is the basis for the EU emissions trading scheme. Carbon markets can create global prices for carbon and stimulate private investment in clean technology and energy efficiency. Carbon markets have the potential to generate resource transfers to developing countries through the clean development mechanism. We must of course ensure such offsets have real impact;
  • technology and energy efficiency. Emissions trading needs to be combined with technology policies. These could include regulatory standards for particular sectors, investment in developing and deploying new technologies, supported by the World Bank’s energy investment framework, and trade agreements to transfer low-carbon technologies to emerging economies and developing countries;
  • deforestation. Emissions from deforestation amount to 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions. There must be incentives for sustainable forestry management; 
  • adaptation. We have to support developing countries to adapt to the unavoidable effects of climate change.


Working with United States

The UK is working with the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the US. 

With China, we have a strong dialogue focusing on energy efficiency and the goal of developing a Near Zero Emissions power plant.

With the US, our discussion with the Administration and Congress has intensified since the priority given to climate change during the UK Presidency of the G8 in 2005. We also work with US states. California is showing the way: the Governor has decided on a cap on Californian emissions and serious action to meet that target. In July 2005, he and Prime Minister Blair signed a California/UK cooperation agreement. In particular, the UK is offering its experience – what works and what doesn’t work – on emissions trading both within the UK and the European Union. We are also working with the RGGI states, which have agreed a cap on power plant emissions. We are working with US business and are encouraged by the leadership of many US companies. We are working with Mayors: over 400 have signed up to shadow the Kyoto Protocol. We are working with NGOs. We are working with faith groups where in each of which a major debate has started on the responsibility of people of faith for stewardship of the earth.

Climate change is a top priority not only for the British Embassy in Washington but also for our network of 10 Consulates around the US. Our staff – British and American alike – are galvanised by the chance to make a difference leveraging UK leadership on this issue. The aim is to work with the United States so that it will become not only a key collaborator in capping emissions and implementing action to meet the targets but a leader on climate change as it has in the past on other big environmental and global issues.

I am not a scientist. I am not an environmental expert. My experience in the UK foreign service has been mostly in foreign policy and security issues such as the Middle East and the Balkans. Nowadays climate change is just as important an issue for a UK diplomat. I hope I have explained why, and why the US is so important in dealing with this global challenge.


Your questions.