Climate Change

Ed Miliband makes a potentially transformative pitch for CoP 26 Glasgow presidency

He must clarify position on carbon markets, genuinely work in partnership with world

By Kapil Subramanian
Published: Friday 07 February 2020

Who will succeed the recently sacked Claire Perry O’Neill as president of the 26th Conference of Parties at Glasgow (CoP 26 Glasgow) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)?

Names doing the rounds early included those of former British foreign secretary William Hague and the slick former prime minister David Cameron. Both, however, appear to have rejected the offer.

Some excellent suggestions that cast the net across political divides, such as Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, have been put forward. But a more realistic contender, if party politics truly cease to matter, is the very un-slick Ed Miliband, Cameron’s opponent at the 2015 General Election in United Kingdom.

In an article Miliband has written, his understanding of the key contentious issues come across as impressive. Indeed, his succinctly put view on the new mantra of ‘net zero’ puts the best climate policy analysts to shame.

Britain has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but currently our 2030 target does not reflect even that ambition. As we seek to persuade others to do more in the short term, we need a 2030 target of significantly greater ambition that puts us on track for net-zero by 2050.

Few in Britain seem to realize that net-zero-by-2050 is a mere distraction from the deep cuts that scientists say are required in the next decade.

As we’ve argued before in our analysis of the the United Kingdom’s existing Cop 26 Glasgow Action Plan, an appropriate net-zero target for such developed countries is 2030 — the terminal year of the current Paris targets, and thus well within the commitment period of the next round of targets due to be announced this year. 

The Labour Party has passed a resolution committing to a 2030 net-zero target, subject to the ability to ensure a just transition for workers. Its manifesto though merely committed to the “2030s”, albeit backed by substantial policy research.

The Labour for A Green New Deal grouping has pushed for a 2030 net-zero target and backed that demand with an impressive multi-volume report, containing potentially transformative ideas for a just transition.

Miliband will be well-placed to build on those efforts to upgrade the UK’s net-zero target, sell it to the British people, and use it to elicit ambition from other countries.

Crucial to the success of Glasgow is a strong alliance with the EU. Before Paris it was the US-China axis that made the crucial breakthrough. This time, with the US off the pitch under President Trump, the best hope is that the EU, which is responsible for 10% of global emissions, and China can act in concert to raise the level of ambition.

Miliband is also right to realize that the alliance with the EU (With which the UK shares its current Paris target) will remain important. It is hoped that Italy as the co-president of CoP 26 Glasgow will play a liaison role.

Building on talks for a long-hoped for joint EU-China ambition boost is also welcome. But the future CoP president must build on that success to work with countries across the world, including India and those in Africa.

Every lever of government must be part of making this agreement happen, particularly around how public and private finance supports or thwarts the transition. That includes mobilising public and private finance for developing countries, ending international government support for fossil fuel extraction.

As argued in our critique of the UK’s existing plan, provision of finance for developing countries for mitigation, adaptation as well as loss and damage — the three pillars of the Paris Agreement — on a scale and order of magnitude larger than is the case at present is crucial for planetary survival. It will also engender goodwill and enhance global mitigation ambition.

Miliband played a central role in the non-legally binding commitment developed countries made on finance at CoP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. But that commitment was never acted on. It is crucial that his advice be taken seriously.

International support for fossil fuel extraction is exemplified by the ₤2 billion of fossil-fuel investments extended recently by PM Boris Johnson to Africa. Miliband has had a strong history of standing up to energy companies. One hopes that, making it his last stand during the 2015 general elections, he will act for the planet as aggressively as he did for British voters and power consumers. 

Over and above actions by national governments, Glasgow must power forward coalitions of states, cities, businesses and civil society.

In the United States, democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg released his climate plan in Madrid. It bases itself exclusively on non-state and sub-national action, pushing the myth that the action by cities, states and businesses could deliver on America’s pledge despite the federal withdrawal from Paris.

This was one of the three key myths about US emissions shattered by a recent study by the New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

Nevertheless, a focus on “cities, states and businesses” to the almost active detriment of enhancing national ambition is key to the UK’s CoP 26 Glasgow Action Plan. It is welcome that a politician understands non-state action for what it is. A crucial bonus over national commitments rather than a substitute, as UNEP has powerfully argued.

DTE playfully suggested that a leading woman climate advocate from a developing country be appointed CoP President, with environmentalist George Monbiot her deputy. Miliband couldn’t be further from such a choice, as a male politician with a generalist education and experience.

Nevertheless, as energy and climate change minister, he piloted the UK’s globally pioneering Climate Change Act (2008), which enabled Britain to quickly become the first G7 country to adopt net-zero legislation last year by passing a mere four-word amendment. 

Given the closer alignment of his views with the developing country agenda, as well as his understanding of strategies to elicit ambition from other countries, Miliband may be a good compromise choice.

A full endorsement is not possible without a clarification of his stand on carbon markets, which have derailed the global climate agenda at CoP after CoP over the last few years and promise to do so again at Glasgow.

DTE will still emphasise that he be supported by a team of deputies, diverse in ethnicity, nationality, gender, and discipline of expertise. For combating climate change is about participatory global deliberation and action in which the UK must understand it merely plays a guiding role. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.