DECC minister Chris Huhne has compared world leaders who obstruct a global deal to tackle climate change to politicians who tried to appease Adolf Hitler before World War Two.
Does this make climate change a threat akin to the Nazis, who plunged the world into war?
The Energy and Climate Change Minister was at Chatham House, endeavouring to inject new urgency into climate change negotiations.
Huhne evoked the memory of Winston Churchill and the fight against Nazi Germany.
“This is our Munich moment,” he said, in a reference to the 1938 Munich Agreement that gave Hitler part of the former Czechoslovakia in a doomed attempt to persuade him to abandon further territorial ambitions. He quoted Churchill – who was both a Liberal and Conservative MP, kind of a Coalition in one – who “once said that ‘an appeaser is someone that feeds a crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last’.”
But just as a crocodile will eat anyone if it’s hungry enough, so climate change affects everyone – but it is the poor who stand to suffer the most.
Many developing nations seek to extend the Kyoto principles, but richer countries – Japan, Russia and Canada – want a different sort of agreement.
Poor countries say rich nations have emitted most of the greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution and so must give them more help before they can be expected to sign up to making cuts themselves.
But Huhne said “We cannot wait for every country to become equal, because that would mean waiting for an eternity. At some point, we must draw a line and say: this starts now. This starts here.”
He said that it was vital that governments redouble their efforts to find a successor to the United Nations Kyoto Protocol, which controls greenhouse gas emissions only in developed countries and expires at the end of 2012.
However, he feels that it is now unlikely that a breakthrough will be made at the main annual conference beginning late November in Durban, South Africa because of “a damaging rhythm” into which “the annual cycle of UNFCCC meetings is in danger of slipping”.
“Although the scientific evidence continues to grow, climate change is getting less political attention now than it did two years ago. There is a vacuum, and the forces of low ambition are looking to fill it,” he said. “Giving in to the forces of low ambition would be an act of climate appeasement.
In an attempt to persuade his audience he quoted the Association of British Insurers who said, in 2009, “our assessment of climate change convinces us that the threat is real and is with us now” and he referenced the letter written to the European Union by more than 70 European companies, including Ikea and Coca Cola, asked them to aim for more ambitious carbon cuts.
“This is the last Parliament with a chance to avoid catastrophic climate change,” he said. “It will end in 2015. If we have not achieved a global deal by then, we will struggle to peak emissions by 2020. It will be more expensive, more divisive, and more difficult.”
He said that the political tactics must include “using soft diplomacy to shift the politics and build coalitions” and “explaining the case for action…on economic and security grounds”, and using “targeted financial and practical support to help developing countries build cleaner, more climate resilient economies.”
He said temperatures must be kept within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change. They have already risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius and even if all emissions were stopped today, they would rise by a further 0.5 of a degree, he said.
“Sticking to our 2 degree limit means global emissions must peak by 2020 at the latest,” Huhne said.
“From 2013, there will be new political leadership in the world’s major economies. We hope to have put the global recession behind us. The stars may be more closely aligned in favour of a binding legal deal,” he said.