10th Annual Greentech Foundation Environment Conference - Kerala, India

Ladies and Gentlemen.  I am deeply honoured to have been invited to address this session of the Tenth Annual Greentech Environment Conference.

I would particularly like to thank the Greentech Foundation for convening this important event, and pay tribute to Mr Kamleshwar Sharan for extending his generous hospitality.

The importance of climate change

We can be in no doubt that the challenge of climate change is the greatest facing the 21st century.  As Dr Manmohan Singh said at the launch of India's National Action Plan on Climate Change:

 "... Today, climate change, generated by the cumulative accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, through human economic activity, threatens our planet.  There is a real possibility of catastrophic disruption of the fragile life-sustaining ecological system that holds this world together.  Science is now unequivocal on this assessment."

Indeed, the first study of the greenhouse effect was made in 1896.  Emissions have risen 30 per cent since then.  As we add to the stock of greenhouse gases, the planet's average temperature increases.  This warming disrupts the world's meteorological patterns on which civilisation depends.  It takes decades for the full effect of greenhouse gases to be felt on the climate: the 30 gigatonnes of CO2 we will emit this year will cause harm for more than the next three decades.

That is why this year's negotiations at Copenhagen are so crucial.  If we are to avert the most damaging effects of climate change, we need to act swiftly.  We need an agreement that will keep the average temperature rise below 2ºC.

The British view

The UK Government has committed to a programme of action to reduce our carbon emissions.  We have written into law binding targets to reduce emissions by one third by 2020 compared to 1990.  The UK Government has indicated that it is prepared to go even further as a part of a new global deal.

There is cross-party agreement in the UK about the need for action to deal with climate change.  Indeed, when he became leader of the Conservative Party - my Party in the UK - David Cameron put green issues at the centre of our agenda.  We were the first political party in the UK to call for climate change legislation with legally enforceable targets, and we welcome our Government's subsequent decision to adopt them.  Such targets binding on rich countries will be essential to build the trust between the developed and developing worlds necessary for an effective agreement at Copenhagen.

We are acting in accordance with the guiding value of the 18th Century statesman Edmund Burke, who described the social contract as:

"... a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born"

This is equally true of the environment.   As Dr Manmohan Singh has stated:

"...this is a world which we hold in trust, a world which has created and nurtured life for countless generations."

We owe it to future generations to take action now to protect our planet.

Our common responsibility

The accumulated stock of greenhouse gases, not the current rate of emissions, determines global warming.  These have, since the industrial revolution, been produced almost entirely by rich countries.  Our escape from poverty through conventional industrialisation added hugely to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Developing countries will not be able to escape poverty in the same way.  Worse, they will be most affected by climate change, and they will have fewer means to adapt.

Only last week the International Centre for Food Policy Research warned that "... South Asia will be particularly hard hit" by climate change.  The region's wheat production could fall by almost half.5  India is highly vulnerable.  A 2⁰C global temperature rise means a 2 to 4⁰C rise over India.  Even at this level of climate change India, whose agriculture is heavily dependent on monsoons,6 could lose its ability to feed a population which is estimated to increase by 500 million by 2050.  Large numbers of people will be dislocated by rising sea levels, floods and droughts.

Indeed, India is already being affected.  Today, as you will be acutely aware, an estimated 12 per cent of this country's land area - 40 million hectares - is affected by floods, almost double the amount five decades ago.1  Orissa lost more than two thirds of its rice production in the floods of 2003/2004.  Equally, there are now more heat waves: millions of people in the same State suffered when drought just two years earlier caused crop failures and mass starvation.

Yet it remains an imperative for developing countries to lift their people out of poverty - and that will require economic growth.  As India's Action Plan on Climate Change says:

"... India is faced with the challenge of sustaining its rapid economic growth while dealing with the global threat of climate change."

To deny other nations the economic growth that has taken the rich world out of poverty would be a kind of environmental colonialism.  It will be essential that developing countries take significant action to reduce their emissions growth.  But action on climate change and economic growth cannot be seen as mutually exclusive.  Our common endeavour should be to ensure that all countries can generate sustainable growth.

Those of us who have benefited from the economic growth pursued regardless of dangerous emissions have obligations to help emerging economies pursue sustainable development.  The UK recognises that there will need to be sufficient finance and technology flows from developed to developing countries to support their action on climate change.  The Conservative Party in the UK believes that countries meeting at Copenhagen must find a mechanism for helping the developing world cope with the consequences of climate change in a way that is additional to, not instead of, what we need to help them relieve their current poverty.

Opportunities for emerging economies

But, we should view the prospect of international agreement not as a cost for developing countries but as an opportunity.   Decarbonised growth offers the prospect for countries like India to avoid the environmental damage that has blighted industrialisation in the West and in China.  Your National Action on Climate Change, through energy efficiency, solar power and renewables, represents an immense opportunity for green technology companies and employment - as I am sure this audience is very much aware - as well as allowing India to rely less on expensive and polluting centralised power generation.

The Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism provides just a hint of the potential of global carbon-trading.  The funds that would raise could finance green growth in the developing world, stimulate investment in new green technology - which needs to be shared with the developing world - and in adaptation measures.   

Further opportunities lie ahead.  People want a cleaner, greener environment, but there are also economic reasons to pursue it.  We are only just learning to see the immense potential of recovering energy and materials - increasingly in demand - from waste.  The natural environment does not only have an intrinsic value; it has a financial value too - for tourism, as a source of medicines, and with the right legal framework, in the market for ecosystem services - protecting habitats, improving air quality, keeping rivers cleaner.  I look forward to seeing for myself the value of India's natural world when I visit Kaziranga National Park tomorrow.

A partnership for environmental security

I would like to thank Greentech once more for the opportunity to speak to this conference in this vital year.

I have addressed you in the spirit of partnership.  The climate change challenge is urgent, and the developed and developing countries face a common threat.  We need a partnership for environmental security to meet that threat.

Preserving the environment must not be seen as a conflict with economic growth, for ultimately, only sustainable growth will guarantee prosperity.  If there is one thing we have learnt from the global economic crisis, it is that no-one can live beyond their means.   None of us can live beyond our economic means.  But neither can we live beyond our environmental means.  The resources of this planet are no more infinite than a nation's financial reserves.  We must spend them wisely.

That is the challenge and the opportunity of green growth.  It represents a good future for our nations and our children.  And that is why a new international agreement on climate change is so important to benefit us all.