Speech to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn


Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

Hello, good evening and welcome.

My morning began in the gloom of Brussels, and it closes with the setting sun in Bonn. Perhaps there is a metaphor tucked inside that journey.

It is a signal honour to share a platform with the ever-effervescent and optimistic Ms Figueres. My mother would have described you as a ‘tonic’, and indeed you are both an eye-opener and a restorative.

Who am I?
Before I go any further, I should say a little about self by way of introduction. I am a Member of the European Parliament representing the proud nation of Scotland. A land ready made to embrace the renewables revolution, blessed as it is with strong sea currents, high tides, powerful rivers and wind. Lots, and lots of wind. We have less need for solar panels though.

Scotland also sits on the edge of the North sea basin and has been at the forefront of European hydrocarbon extraction since the 70s. Scotland also sits atop one of the larger coal fields in the UK and was one of the first nations to exploit its resources at the very dawn of the industrial revolution.

As an MEP I sit on the Environment Committee (the more green minded committee of the Parliament) and the Energy Committee (which is slightly browner in its imaginings). In the by-going I am also a geologist.

I am here to talk to you about developments from the inside of the EU, and the importance of not just climate change targets, but their implementation at EU level and in our member states.

The 2015 Global Climate Legislation Study
It is a pleasure to be in Bonn today in the shadow of this important UN gathering to the launch of the Global Climate Legislative Study prepared so ably by Michal Nachmany, Professor Sam Fankhauser and their team at the Grantham Institute.

This is a valuable report. It reminds us that three quarters of global emissions are covered by economy-wide emission reduction target. That is not to downgrade in any way the important endeavours of the UN and the upcoming COP21 gathering. However, it does remind us that serious work is being done. Since 1997, the number of climate change laws and policies has doubled every 5 years.

How stands the climate union?
I spent a very productive week in Lima as part of the European Parliament delegation. Needless to say however, I was in the air when the final agreement was wrestled to the ground.

To be frank it was evident that the European Union delegation left Lima a little downhearted. In the past the EU had been at the forefront of climate action, but Lima represented a tectonic shift in that state of affairs. With the US and China in the tent, it was harder to be sure of a European tilt to the outcome. And indeed so it proved. A number of the European Commissions’ ambitions were tempered or re-focused: the ex-ante review, the diminution of adaption in favour of mitigation, the need for a legally binding outcome.

In the end, the negotiators achieved a goldilocks deal – not too ambitious so as to frighten the American public, not too restricted so as to disappoint the rest of the world. In the end, everyone was content but no one was happy, and this feeling of unease has coloured the parliament since.

We have a limited time before we reconvene in Paris – just five months, and to date we have declared INDCs from just nine countries – covering 30% of global emissions. A steep hill still to climb, and an extraordinary task for Christiana Figueres and her team.

What about the EU?
The EU is amongst the nine who have declared. At least 40% is our collective commitment. However, as the Global Climate Legislative Study makes clear, a target is only as meaningful as the commitment (and the resources) to deliver the result.

Carbon pricing and emissions trading
I say that because just yesterday I read the Financial Times headline, where six major European oil and gas CEO’s called for a global emissions trading system. As one of the European Parliament’s negotiators on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, I can confirm that it will be hard enough to get things working within the EU, let alone beyond. The carbon price is currently €7. A tripling of the price would still be inadequate to incentivise low carbon technology and curb emissions, and I have heard few commentators suggest it will triple the price of carbon.

Australia, once carbon marker leaders with ambitions of uniting with the European market have abandoned their plans. The problem with a political fix, is that it is subject to politics. In the case of Australia it became an ideological issue, one of market intervention, and on that issue Australians, Europeans and the rest of the world is far from united.

Of course emissions trading systems are just one of a number of policy options available to governments. In truth, it is difficult to escape the feeling that the EU still has an ETS at all because it does not have the power to raise a carbon tax. However, I am not sure that this is the time for a British Conservative politician to be encouraging any thoughts of European taxes.

In the UK we have both an ETS and a Carbon tax. For British industry an extra £18 and eight pence is added on to every ton of carbon emitted. Along with some of the world’s most advanced climate legislation, the UK has a triple lock on carbon reducing measures which have seen our carbon emissions reduced by a quarter on 1990 levels. According to the independent Committee on Climate Change, the UK is on track to outperform on its carbon targets.

What do targets really mean?
In terms of targets, Scotland, is a cautionary tale. Scotland has some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world – a minimum 42% cut in emissions by 2020. However, to date the Scottish Government has missed each of its own interim climate change targets, highlighting the need for evidence based policy that can be delivered against. Indeed in the by going, Scotland’s consumption of imported coal has actually gone up. The Scottish Government’s new figures will be published next week. I hope progress has been made toward realising the ambition.

The cost of non realisation
If the aim of Paris is to unite the world around an achievable carbon reduction plan then we must first understand the cost to each nation of doing so. The gap in burden sharing between developed and developing nations has crippled climate change negotiations for decades. Let’s take just one example – Botswana.

Botswana sits atop Africa’s largest coal reserve – some 200 billion tonnes. It continues to sit atop the resource since it extracts only three million tonnes a year from its single pit. Despite the presence of such energy potential beneath its feet, Botswana imports 80% of its electricity from neighbouring South Africa. And importantly, half the population has no electricity at all. The great hope for Botswana is summed up in the slogan of its Ministry of Energy & Minerals: ‘The Future is Coal’.

The question these negotiations must answer for Botswana, and the hundreds of developing nations alike is, how can such nations be discouraged from exploiting their indigenous resources. This point is made all the more pertinent by the failure of the EU to address just such questions in a range of countries, from the coal of Poland to the lignite of Germany.

The Green Climate Fund is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting.

So while we quite rightly gather today to recognise the findings of this report, we must not forget the challenges that lie ahead.

As a member of the European Parliament I will work with my colleagues to ensure that flagship policies such as the Emissions Trading Scheme work. I will also continue to push for true energy union across the continent.

However, Governments, whether they be national or regional, must ensure that the targets they set and the laws they adopt on climate change are deliverable, verifiable, and based on realistic assessments of what can be achieved. Above all, to reach the global deal we want to see, and to stay below the two degrees scientists are telling us we must, we will have to be very careful of what we ask of others.