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Need to create a framework to tackle climate change

U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair

In terms of the long-term future, there is no issue that is more important than climate change. Kyoto and the Kyoto Treaty was an extraordinary achievement--but if we are to make a real impact on tackling the menace of climate change, we have to go far further.

We have to set a very bold ambition for the next stage, and that is to move as quickly as possible to a goal to stabilize climate change. If we are able to do that and create a framework that gives business and industry, as well as national governments, some certainty as to the direction for the world, then I think we have a prospect of tackling this challenge. But it is urgent, and all the latest signs indicate that the problem is not getting better--it is getting worse and more rapidly.

The single most important thing to me when I look at this problem, not just in my own country but around the world, is that you have got to create this framework. This is important when we come to look at what happens post-Kyoto. It is almost as if we have to produce for the environment the type of technological revolution that gripped us with information technology. In other words, you have to create the circumstances in which the investors out there, business, the financial markets, think "Right, this is where the opportunity is going to go."

Let's be very clear, there are going to be some difficult decisions for government. We introduced the climate change levy in the U.K., which is a levy on heavy industrial users, to try to get people to move to different types of technology and grow more sustainably. It is going to contribute a lot to our reduction of CO2 emissions. But don't be under any illusion, it is a very tough thing for governments to do.

A country can obviously play a role as a proselytiser, an agitator for change. But the other thing you can do is by the demonstration of your own effort, to say, "Look this is the way things can happen, this is how we can go." Part of this is to persuade governments and people that they can grow sustainably. Sometimes when people look at climate change, it's not that they doubt the science or doubt the problem. But let's be very honest with ourselves; this is the purest example you will ever find in politics of the potential clash between a long-term interest and short-term pain. And governments can often be in a situation where it is not that the politicians don't want to do the right thing, but that they worry about the consequences electorally of the short-term difficulty in doing so.

It is important that we show how individuals can also make their contribution. For example, when you are talking about building new housing, making sure that it is done in an environmentally beneficial way.   We are now developing a whole program around micro-generation, which I think is very, very important. People do understand that climate change is happening and that its long-term consequences are extremely serious--people are noticing the problems.

No one can be absolutely sure that each of these climate problems we have been experiencing are connected with climate change. But the evidence from the melting ice caps is if you operate on anything like the precautionary principle, you would have to say that the science is sufficiently clear. In my view, it is pretty much certain, and it would be deeply irresponsible not to take action. I think most people understand this is a major issue and they want governments to act.

I am actually in one sense optimistic that there is a change in the way that the world is looking at this issue. I think the important thing is to capitalize on that quickly, and get real movement forward. Otherwise, what we will find is that this opportunity slips. The consequences of that for the world would be absolutely disastrous. I do not want it on the conscience certainly of me or people of my generation that we were told what this problem was in the early part of the 21st century, did nothing about it, and then my children and their children end up having to deal with the consequences.

For the Record is an edited excerpt of U.K. Prime
Minister Tony Blair's speech at the Climate Change and Governance Conference held earlier this year in New Zealand.

September/October 2006