The Lima climate talks: a small step forward, a long way to go

It's clear that while the rest of the world is powering up with renewables, the UK is being left behind.

It’s clear that while the rest of the world is powering up with renewables, the UK is being left behind

So on Sunday we heard the rather grandly titled Lima Call for Climate Action: considerably less than we’d hoped for, but not as bad as we might have feared.

It’s a small step towards the next UN summit in Paris in 12 months’ time.

What is to be applauded is that we do have an agreement on paper and signed up to; it would have been disastrous to have left Lima without one.

And it is worth noting that the existence of this next step very much reflects the wishes of the British people: a Populus poll last month found that 73 per cent want a global climate deal and 66 per cent want immediate action on climate change.

But it is clear, as Greens/EFA climate change spokesperson Bas Eickout has said, that the talks are lagging behind the real world economic, social and technical progress.Lord Stern rightly identifies one critical area of debate that has been neglected by this deal – assistance for developing nations from richer states to ensure that new infrastructure is as low carbon as possible.

Equally, it failed to ensure that there will be independent, rigorous assessment of nations’ promises and plans to cut greenhouse gas.

Where there has been progress is in Lima’s acknowledgement that states can no longer, as in the Kyoto process, be simply divided into developed and developing.

There is some progress too on acknowledging the damage already being done by climate change, and the damage that is further threatened to small island and other vulnerable states.

But this is lacking the vision, the strength, the commitment to real change that the state of the climate, the warnings of the scientists and the evidence of our own senses, demands.

We need leaders that take a global, long-term perspective and take the actions necessary to protect our planet now and for the future – not continue to think in terms of the profit interests of fossil fuels, companies who continue to exert a hugely damaging influence over national and international politics and policy.

It’s not what the public or scientific community wants or deserves.

But it is worth focusing on the fact that the UN talks, although essential to establishing the ground rules for the future, aren’t the only – or even the chief – way of making progress on the ground.

We’re seeing real advances in unilateral and bilateral action already, outside of the UN framework. China is one of the real, if quiet, success stories. China’s coal use – a critical element of greenhouse gas emissions, is already falling, well ahead of schedule.

If the driving force is as much the critical health issue of choking air pollution as climate change, that scarcely matters – what is key is the direction of travel.

And renewables are already a major part of its supply – more than 30 per cent of installed capacity and 20 per cent of generation.

The progress in Germany, Denmark, Spain and other European states has been more noted – they’re all seeing that renewables and energy conservation are the way forward.

There is also bilateral progress – most notably the agreement between China and the US on capping emissions.

When it comes to Britain, however, there’s little to cheer. Enthusiasm for the tidal project in Swansea Bay (the first of five lagoons that in a decade could supply nine per cent of our electricity needs) from the Lib Dem Energy Secretary is encouraging, although it is worth remembering this is the man who said “I love shale gas” – twice, in case anyone missed it the first time.

Campaigners up and down the country are right now battling cold, rain and often aggressive policing to protect their local communities, and the globe, against the threat of fracking, even while there’s rising acknowledgement of the financial risk of the carbon bubble.

With the right support, British solar panels could power 18 million homes and contribute up to £75bn to the UK economy, yet government policy is undermining the employment and energy security benefits of going all out for solar power.

It is clear that while the rest of the world is powering up with renewables, the UK is being left behind, and in the economically, socially and environmentally critical area of energy conservation, we’re going backwards – building homes today that demand immediate retrofitting to make them warm, comfortable and affordable to heat.

There’s a year to go to the Paris talks and less than five months to go until Britain gets a new government.

It’s clear that our new government is going to have to act fast so that we can go into the UN talks with our heads held high, and as a leading figure promoting a binding, genuine global deal to tackle the pressing threat of climate change to our civilisation and our planet.

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter

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