Lord Deben's speech


The Rt. Hon. John Gummer, Lord Deben, is the Chair of the UK' statutory Committee on Climate Change and President of GLOBE International.

Here is the full transcript of Lord Deben's address to GLOBE legislators gathered in London on 14 January for the opening session of the 1st GLOBE Climate Legislation Summit:

"Well first of all I apologise for the embarrassment at having to watch one’s self on the television, which is always a thing one tries to avoid if it’s humanly possible! But welcome again, and our thanks to Minister Burt and to the Foreign Secretary; and also to the Climate Development Knowledge Network for supporting this event. We will have with us in the next two days, 100 delegates from 26 countries participating in this event.

The reason that we are here is to continue a process which was a long time a coming. But is now central to the battle against climate change - the mutual relationship between the legislators and the parliaments of the countries of the world. This is a crucial part in the battle and it always has been because it is we who are legislators, who have set the pace in many countries, indeed in most countries. It has been the parliaments that have pressed governments to act. Now you notice the pride with which the minister has said how advanced is the British climate change legislation. All ministers have said that, the previous government was thrilled to have implemented it. But if I tell you the real story of it, it was that it was Parliament; across the board that forced it on the government, even though those who are most concrenmed in government are always frightened of being tied to a proper programme for the future. So it was Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour backbenchers; all sorts of people together who said ‘we want this’ ‘we’re going to have it’. And that meant that ministers in the Labour government, shadow ministers in the Conservative opposition and leaders in the Liberal Democrats really had to take on board what Parliament was saying. And that has given us in this country a very advanced form of climate change legislation.

But it was Parliament, and many of us fight against those who want to take credit for it (because everybody’s got a bit of credit they want to take!) I don’t want anybody to take credit for it except Parliament. We did it as representatives of people, recognising that we could not go on putting our children and grandchildren in hoc to the conveniences of today. There are always people out there who want to deny the climate change case. And you can understand why, it is inconvenient. That phrase which was used by Al Gore was a very effective phrase, it is inconvenient. ‘I wish I didn’t believe in climate change.’ It actually makes life much easier if you don’t believe in it because you don’t have to think in the long term that we are having to think in. But I believe that we are not only forced by the facts, but we are also forced by any sensible policy of protection to deal very, very toughly with the threat to mankind that this represents. I have been saying to people, because I Chair the Climate Change Committee in the UK, I’ve been saying to people that I think I am an insurance man.

I am providing insurance for three things: first of all, I am providing insurance against ever increasing costs of fuel. Because unless we have a portfolio of supply of fuel, and particularly renewables then we will in fact have more and more cost. The United States is thrilled at the moment because of its cheaper gas, but the international energy authority says that the price of gas in the United States over the next ten years will double. In Europe we don’t have the same opportunity, we hope we’ve got some gas but we don’t have the same opportunity to be able to change our whole system because of it. There’s no ‘game-changing’ in gas in Europe, and what it would mean is that if we don’t produce a portfolio of mechanisms to produce the fuel, we would continue to see the price of our basic fuels rise year in, year out because that’s the direction it is going as more and more countries, more and more parts of the world improve their economies, have increased population and demand more fuel. So I see myself as an insurer against that.

The second insurance is the insurance in order to protect national fuel sovereignty. This is a very important thing for almost every country round this table. We do not want to have a future in which a few are able to dictate the terms of trade of the many. And many of the poorest countries in the world that are beginning to emerge and develop are the most dependent upon other places for their fuel; and that means not only the price but the provision, and therefore we must insure against that. And then thirdly we insure against climate change itself which is the biggest and worst of the problems. And the only way we can insure against climate change is to de-carbonize our electricity supply. The only way we can deal with it is to have a portfolio of fuel supplies and make all the other changes which together we are working on in the legislators all round the world.

Now this report, the third, is a most impressive statement. I’m sure all of you will by the end of the two days have read it from cover to cover. What I know very well, is that this is the best argument against the simplistic view of the popular press in every country. We got it here in Britain, had it over the weekend yet again. ‘Why are we doing this, no-one else is doing it.’ And that of course is the easiest way to stop anybody doing it. In Britain they say ‘well we are only two or three per cent of the emissions of the world, so what matters if we get ours right?’ I’ll tell you what matters: it matters if you don’t do it yourself, you’ve got no right to ask other people to do it. You have to start where you are. If the history of the world were about people saying it’s not up to me, it’s up to someone else, nothing would ever have been done. I am no longer an elected politician but I used to canvass and bang on doors. The sentence that annoyed me more than any other, was the person who would stand there and say (having complained about something) ‘well somebody ought to do something about it’. And I always said ‘why don’t you start yourself.’ Because nothing starts without ‘ourselves’.

All the people who have made a difference in the world have said ‘I must do something about it,’ and that’s precisely what this enables us to do. Because we can say in Britain, ‘ok, from Argentina to Vietnam there are people in much more difficult circumstances than our own who are actually doing the right thing, and this is a remarkable achievement. I really do want to thank Christina Figueres for the huge support that she has given to us on producing this. Because she sees it as an integral part of the campaign to get the international binding agreement which we so necessarily need. I want to make it very clear; we don’t see this process of legislatures and legislators as in some way contrary to the position of the United Nations working for a global solution. We are entirely complimentary, but we are a necessary compliment.

Because if we don’t do nationally, what we are going to have to do internationally, then the international agreement will not be worth the paper it’s written on. The exciting thing for us all is, that we are already doing in our nations, more than our governments are willing to sign up to internationally. It’s a very curious thing; if you compare what people are doing at home with what their governments say outside about what they’re prepared to do. People are doing the opposite of what normally happens. Normally they tell other people and say they will do things much bigger than they are doing themselves. In this case we have the wholly admirable thing is, that most countries are doing more than they are prepared to agree to internationally. And this is the proof, and this is the document which we have got to use to make sure that we get a coherence between national action and international decision making. Now I want to say that when you go through this list of course it has its heroes and it has its also-ran. It would be entirely wrong for me to talk about the also-rans, because that doesn’t help anyone. But I do want to say just a thing about one particular country where I happened to be present, when the battle over legislation took place.

I was in Australia, watching the Australian government fight this battle. I must say I was immensely impressed at the tenacity with which the government fought against every kind of calumny that was possible to put there. It was quite interesting (as it was a Labour government and I am a Conservative politician) to see absolutely how remarkable the battle was being fought by the government of Australia, and how all the arguments of the opposition were all the arguments you have everywhere else. They go very simply: ‘It isn’t happening.’ ‘Well if it is happening it’s got nothing to do with human beings.’ ‘Well if it does have something to do with human beings, it’s not about us, it’s about someone else.’ ‘And even if it is about us we can’t do anything about it because it’s China, Russia, Europe, America.’ The whole list of it; that battle which everyone has everywhere. And I really hate it because I want everyone to recognise that that’s the battle we’re all having constantly, it never stops. Because the populist press, the populist politicians cannot get out of the thought that there are a few cheap, quick votes to get by promising people an easier time rather than having to deal with the long term decisions, and with an attempt to destroy that demand. It isn’t the easy answer, to ignore climate change.

To ignore climate change is the stupid policy. Because what it means is, that your economy is less able to handle the problems of the future even if climate change weren’t true! Even if it weren’t happening! Even if we’re all wrong, even if most scientists in the world have got it wrapped round their neck! Good English phrase, I don’t know how they are translating that into Chinese, I’m sure it’s an interesting one! But even if they were all wrong, that would make us less competitive if we did not do something about our dependence upon fossil fuels. It would make us less able to provide for a world of nine billion people; and more and more of them able to demand a standard of living similar to those that most of us have in this room.

So fighting climate change is not an alternative which we can put aside during times of difficulty; it is the answer to the problems of recession. It is the answer to the problems of the economy. It is not an alternative that you take up when things are doing well. So it’s a huge privilege and pleasure to welcome you here to London, to reassert the determination here to fight climate change, to welcome those who have fought the good fight from Mexico and Brazil to China, the enormous battles from Australia to our own country. And to say, this is the moment to take it a real stage further.

This is the moment to say, ‘we will not accept that we are the only people, we are determined to be part of that family of nations who are going to look after this planet, which is our only planet, which we did not make, which we were given, and which we have a responsibility to look after. And we’re going to do that for our children and for our children’s children. And we will do it in companionship with all the other legislators of the world. What is fascinating is; it doesn’t matter what system you have or what kind of government, everywhere legislators are recognising their responsibilities. And that makes this a great and wonderful opportunity for all of us.

So thank you for coming, and I look forward to two really productive and valuable days.

Thank you very much."