Open letter to the organisers and participants of the politics of climate change conference with special reference to the contributions by Tony Blair, Martin Rees, Richard Lambert and David Cote.
Congratulations to the organisers for an unusually well constructed day on an unusually complex issue. What was its conclusion?
The key one got said at the conference – the brutal truth is we are missing the key targets – but it remained in the small print of the main debate. 20 years of serious scientific understanding and three years of intensive public awareness later, there is no decline in the trend of emissions outputs nor even a declaration.
Given the propulsion of population numbers and consumption appetite it is very difficult to have confidence that the upward trend is going to be reversed. As a measure of the problem, during the day of the conference itself, 100m tonnes of CO2 was added to the great stock pile in the sky, net of whatever declining proportion the oceans and forests are able to reabsorb. It is as if we continue to picnic by a stream with a wall of water mounting out of sight and out of mind round the corner.
It appeared that there was a very common agreement and understanding of this problem at the conference, although all were broadly positive about its manageability. A clear signal on carbon price and political recognition that energy was going to be more expensive in the future were important preconditions. It was also implicitly agreed by all the speakers that nothing can effectively happen until each business sector has the necessary economic, regulatory, motivational, funded framework agreed and supported by government to change the existing business models. The practical question is how can these frameworks be put in place speedily and faster than the science worsens.
To get the right urgency we need science to scream out yet more loudly than it is that political and business approaches are not evolving at the same speed as the problem measured in the only way that matters, emissions outputs now and at clearly identified breakpoints in the near medium future. We also need to describe the situation as it really is which is not a dream but a nightmare of complexity, risk, vested (but not necessarily bad) interests and dreadful uncertainty. We need the second half of Martin Luther King’s philosophy that asserts “we will overcome” which was not at all obvious when it was said.
David Cote’s six constraints and seven propositions on efficiency get to the nub of sector by sector action needed to get all entrepreneurs to pluck the low lying fruit. How best to make that happen?
Tony Blair instinctively put his finger on leadership as the answer. Is this where the Policy Network can make the next and perhaps most important contribution?
Inevitably this first conference could only put the issue on the table. My suggestion would be we need a second, urgently focused entirely on constraints and priority actions for each major stream of energy and industrial activity, working in smaller groups with report back mechanisms to the full body. I am sure there would be widespread support. If the findings of such a conference were then taken up by the Corporate leaders Group and the CBI and supported by Government we might then have a real practical launch pad for incentivised action.
Leslie Dighton is founder and director of The Chairmans Club in London; founder and chairman of Corporate Renewal Associates; author of papers on value creation, global governance, board leadership, corporate pitfalls and organisational resilience; governor of the London School of Economics; advisory member of the National Consumers Council; and member of the Global Business Network.